Tag Archives: testimony

God’s Will

12 Jan
Will

William (“Will”) Kurczak

This beautiful story was submitted by Christie Kurczak of Fort Leavenworth.

We had not planned on any new pregnancies after our fourth daughter was born because of complications that I had during her delivery, but God had other plans for us.

In December 2013, just after my husband left for a deployment (we’re a military family), I discovered that I was pregnant with our fifth child. It was a very scary pregnancy from the beginning, with my husband Steve being in the Middle East, and I was having some complications. I continually prayed to God for His Will.

This surely wasn’t my plan. Things didn’t feel “right” from the start. I was struggling to keep up with the four girls by myself. I didn’t know what else to do, but place my trust in Him. I didn’t know where to begin in my prayer . . . For the baby’s health? For my health? For both? It somehow seemed easier to just pray “thy will be done” and “please take care of my girls and husband along the way.”

In March 2014, I was 19 weeks along in the pregnancy when my water broke. I rushed to the hospital and learned that I could expect to lose the baby within a week. The baby was too young to survive outside the womb. There was nothing they could do. I was told that within the next few days one of two things would happen: Either I would go into labor and the baby would deliver, or because of the lack of the amniotic sack I would acquire an infection that would take the lives of both the baby and me. If the second possibility occurred, they would be forced to deliver the baby right away to save me, and the baby would be too young to survive.

My husband returned to the States on emergency leave, and I was sent home from the hospital with strict instructions to return at any sign of labor or infection. And we waited.

At this time I was introduced to St. Gianna Molla. I learned about this modern-day saint’s courage, her faith, and the miracle that confirmed the cause for her canonization.

The miracle involved a mother whose water had broken, and whose doctors were encouraging an abortion. This too was an option that was presented to me when my water broke. We lived in Washington State then, and abortions are legal there up to 24 weeks gestation. (Of course the doctors learned very quickly from me that in no way was that an option.) We began to pray to St. Gianna for her intercession, for God’s will to unfold, and for peace in our hearts with whatever was to come. We had no idea just what was in store.

I was on bedrest at our home for two weeks before I began to have some light bleeding and went to the hospital. I was admitted right away and told that I would remain “in house” as we waited for the baby to come. I was 21 weeks along now, and still being told that the baby wouldn’t have a chance at survival. If we happened to make it to 24 weeks, then NICU would become involved in our care, and they would do what they could. But I was told many times, “You’ll never make it that far.”

Upon admission to the hospital, and further examination, our road became more complicated. The doctors discovered that not only was there no longer sufficient amniotic fluid for the baby to develop necessary lung strength, but the placenta supporting the pregnancy was growing out of control. It had attached itself not only into the lining of the uterus, but had embedded into the uterine wall and muscle, and they suspected that it had grown through the uterine wall and into my abdominal cavity.

Now not only was our baby at risk, but my life was in danger as well. As the placenta grows, it is looking for a blood source to support the baby, and it will attach to whatever it finds. Usually the placenta is delivered shortly after the birth of the baby. But if it has attached to other internal organs, it will not release and will just continue to bleed. In a matter of minutes the mother can hemorrhage and lose her life. This became our predicament. The longer I could manage to hold onto the pregnancy, the better our baby’s chance of survival. But the further the pregnancy went, the greater the chance that my “rogue” placenta was taking over my abdominal cavity and I could bleed out during delivery before the doctors could do anything about it.

So we sat. We waited. We prayed. I continued to pray for God’s Will for our family and for our sweet baby. We had been told we were having another girl, and we had named the child Mary Louise Gianna for our Holy Mother, for St. Louise de Marillac (I loved the name Louise and her feast day of March 15 also happened to be the day my water broke), and of course for St. Gianna, who had quickly become so special to us. Time marched on.

I sat in that hospital room for eight more weeks. It was a miracle, really. There was no medical explanation as to why one of those initial two scenarios had not played out. Everyone was baffled and on edge. Steve began to refer to me as the little IED (improvised explosive device) in room 305 ready to “explode.” The medical staff suspected that when the time finally came to deliver, I might massively hemorrhage before they could get me safely to an operating room.

The goal was trying to wait as long as possible, to give “Mary Louise” the best chance, while at the same time balancing a decision to schedule delivery so that a C-section could be performed in as controlled an environment as possible–that is what would give me the best chance at survival.  After 10 weeks of waiting, and watching, and praying, and missing so many things that were happening in my daughters’ lives outside those hospital walls, at 29 weeks gestation, the time came.

My body went into labor once earlier that week and we were able to slow it. But on May 21st, it became obvious that the time had come to deliver. A scheduled C-section was planned for the next morning in a nice controlled environment (as the docs had wished). But yet again, God’s plans were different. At around 5:00 p.m., labor became almost unbearable, and as the doctors decided to examine me one final time before going home to get a good night’s rest for the surgery the next morning, they found that the cord had prolapsed, and the baby was getting ready to deliver right there. Game on, as they say, and I was rushed to the OR.

I woke up about six hours later in ICU to my husband and my mom telling me how well I had done, and that I was going to be okay. I had received a massive blood transfusion (6 units of red blood cells and 8 units of plasma), but the doctors were able to stabilize me. Unfortunately, the only way to remove the placenta and stop the bleeding was to perform a complete hysterectomy. We knew this was a possibility, but I’d hoped that once they got in there, maybe things wouldn’t be as bad as they had feared.  As it turned out, the placenta had grown through the uterus and was touching the bladder, but had not done any other damage to my internal organs, praise God.

My only concern at this point was the baby, of course. I kept asking how she was, and at first Steve would say nothing about her, so I began to fear that the worst had happened. Though we had held onto hope through all of this that the baby would survive, without amniotic fluid for so long, the chances where very high that her lungs would be severely underdeveloped, and that she wouldn’t have a fighting chance. I knew this, but how I had wanted to be able to see her before she was gone.

Finally Steve blurted out, “The baby is fighting. The baby is really sick, but is fighting.” Then he hesitated a bit and said, “But . . . it’s a boy!” A BOY!!!

I could hardly believe it. God is full of surprises, isn’t He?! Steve shared that he’d had an emergency Baptism performed because things were not looking good . . . especially in those first hours. While I was sad to have not been able to witness my son’s Baptism, I was relieved at the same time. Steve knew how important that would be to me if something had happened and he hadn’t made it through that first night.

Steve named our son William James Robert after my dad, his own middle name, and his grandfather. We’d never discussed boys’ names with any seriousness because we never thought we’d have a son. We called him Will, as often as we called him William. Steve couldn’t have chosen a better name for him. He had a will like no other. His will to live had proven doctors wrong since that moment at19 weeks gestation when my water broke, and the fight he showed from the moment he was born was incredibly inspiring.

We had good moments of hope and improvement with Will, and moments of despair as he would take a turn for the worse. We sat vigil at his bedside for the better part of just over two weeks. There were laughter and tears. All of Will’s sisters got to come and visit and meet him. They read books and sang songs to him. They told him about God and about their friends. He knew only love.

On one particularly difficult afternoon, as I sat next to his isolette in the NICU, I continued to pray that same prayer I had spoken countless times since first learning of my pregnancy. “I don’t understand your ways, Lord. And I don’t know where we are going from here. But I trust in you. I’m praying for Your Will, Lord . . .” And in that moment it hit me like a ton of bricks and took my breath away. All that time I had been praying for God’s Will. God’s WILL!

As I had prayed for God’s plans to unfold in our lives, in the same way I had been praying for my son by name. His mercies never end!  Our son was God’s Will long before he was ours, but I have been forever blessed and changed that I am able to be his momma, though I had him but a short time here on this Earth.

For 18 days our son fought for his life before his body became so tired and worn that he could fight no more. In the early hours of the morning on June 8th, Pentecost Sunday, Will went to be with our Lord.  (That also happens to be the feast day of St. William of York.)  William’s life in this world was brief, but he touched more lives, and accomplished more for the Kingdom of God in that time than many adults could ever dream of. His story brought awareness to the sanctity of life at all stages to people, and in a place where it is sadly undervalued. He inspired people to return to the Lord, or to a new, deeper faith through the miracles that God worked throughout his short life. Will’s story continues to spread a message of hope and faith and trust in the Lord that is far-reaching, as those who were closest to us and forever changed by him have gone on to touch and bless others.

We had to leave Washington only six short weeks after Will’s funeral because of a planned military move. It was extremely difficult to leave that place where we have all of our memories with him, and to leave all of the people who supported, cared for, and loved us throughout that time in our lives–not to mention to come to a place where only one or two people knew anything about him or the trauma we had all been through.

It has only been 18 months since Will left this world, and it is still very fresh and raw at times. I try my best to trust the Holy Spirit as He moves and to share little tidbits when He prompts, to show restraint with sharing sometimes when He’s asking me to, and to be completely open and vulnerable when the Spirit moves me to as well, though sometimes it is harder than others.

Right now I am filled with gratitude at being given a chance to share my son and his story again.  I find peace in knowing that Will fulfilled God’s purpose for him in this world. And I believe with my whole heart that the ripple of love and trust that flows from his story will roll on forever. When I make it to heaven someday (God willing), I can’t wait to put my arms around my sweet William once again. And when I meet the Lord face to face, my question to him will not be “Why did that have to happen?” but rather I will say, “Please show me. Show me all of the good and wonderful things that came from our William’s short life.” I know that it will be far-reaching, and I can’t wait for this heavenly reunion. Until then, I hang on to that trust in our awesome, merciful God.

IMG_8555 (2)This is a photo of Christie Kurczak’s daughters taken at a garden dedication this past summer. With the help of the Knights of Columbus, the family planted a garden bed at the chapel on post dedicated to “Unborn babies with a Will to Live, and the Little Ones Already in Heaven.” It is their hope and prayer that it will be a place of healing for others who have lost children to miscarriage, stillbirth, or early infant loss, as well as a place to pray for those children at risk of abortion.  

Aging Gracefully

28 Oct

holding hand of elderly personAs I turn 55 this month, I’m looking forward to all the senior discounts, especially now that my kids have outgrown the children’s menu. It also gives me an opportunity to reflect on aging.

When my family moved to Ohio in 1993, we invited my mother Eileen (“Mom”) to come live with us. While still capable of living on her own, Mom was beginning to feel the effects of age and heart problems, and it was increasingly burdensome for her to maintain her condominium. Plus, we considered “Grandma” part of our family, and valued her time with us. So we warmly welcomed her–and her cats!–into our home.

In December 1998, Mom was hospitalized with pneumonia. Complications ensued after Christmas. She developed a serious infection and became septic. She went into respiratory arrest and was placed on a ventilator and ultimately a feeding tube was inserted. She spent the entire month of January in intensive care, and the doctors were not at all optimistic about her recovery. So many machines, so little change in Mom’s condition. I had to consent to a dizzying array of procedures and tests on her behalf. But mostly, we were praying and waiting.

In February, Mom’s condition had improved enough for her to be moved out of intensive care. Even then, her doctors gave us little hope of her ever being able to come home, and had recommended various institutions where we could put her. After all, she needed so much personal care, and she’d likely be tube-fed for the rest of her life. We pleaded, cajoled, and argued with the doctors to let her come home. On Holy Saturday, a couple hours before the Easter Vigil, our request was granted.

At home, Mom’s condition steadily improved. We gradually were able to return the various hospital apparatus the state and local agencies provided us. We even weaned her from her feeding tube. But more than all the milestones and improvements Mom made, what stuck with me most was the doctor’s comment at one of her post-hospitalization visits. He admitted that he underestimated the ability of our family to care for Mom, and, in fact, that we were able to do more for her than he could.

We moved to Olathe in 2007, and Mom was still with us. In 2008, her conditioned worsened, and we were so grateful to have the Villa St. Francis nearby to care for her during her final months. She passed away in February 2009.

I really don’t see our family’s approach to caring for Mom as being particularly heroic. Having multiple generations under one roof can be very stressful at times, and we didn’t always show one another the love and respect Our Lord expects of us. Yet with God’s grace we made the effort, firmly believing that this is how Our Lord wants us to grow in holiness.

I come from a very large family, from which I learned the value of extended family. And while my Mom, a convert to the Catholic Church, never talked too much about her faith, she did manifest it to me when I was a child as she daily cared for my handicapped grandmother. Given this background, it always seemed “natural” to have Mom live with us.

However, I’m fully aware that in welcoming Mom into our household — despite her infirmity — we were making a distinctively countercultural choice. Our society often tells us that the older generation is just as inconvenient and annoying as children. Openness to the elderly can be just as politically incorrect as openness to new life.

We saw in the 20th century how Planned Parenthood and the little-known, radical views of its founder, Margaret Sanger, incrementally thrusted its contraceptive anti-natalist, racist, and eugenic agenda on the world. The result has been that conduct once considered unspeakably evil–the killing of unborn or even partially born children–is not only accepted, but enshrined as an inalienable right. Some of us, however, may not be aware that a similar effort is well under way to legitimize the killing of our elderly and ill citizens.

In 1938, President of the Euthanasia Society of America (ESA) Dr. Foster Kennedy announced his organization’s support of legislation to legalize the killing of “defective” or “incurable” human beings–with or without their consent. Back then, such legislation was utterly intolerable to the vast majority of our citizens, so the ESA and other pro-euthanasia organizations eventually took a more strategic, incremental approach, employing deceptive language such as “death with dignity” and building upon the utilitarianism (“quality of life”) and radical autonomy (“right to choose”) mantras championed by secular society and sadly, the U.S. Supreme Court.

Many now see euthanasia as a topic of political discussion, not an abomination.

With advancing age the elderly develop an acute awareness of their own mortality, often accompanied by pain and loneliness. Yet, through faith and the supernatural virtue of hope, Christians understand the twilight of life as a passage from the fragile and uncertain joy of this world to the fullness of joy which the Lord holds in store for His faithful servants: “Enter into the joy of your master” (Mt. 25:21).

St. John Paul II wrote that honoring older people involves welcoming them, helping them, and affirming their gifts. He stressed that “the most natural place to spend one’s old age continues to be the environment in which one feels most ‘at home,’ among family members, acquaintances, and friends.”

The Holy Father by no means denigrated but rather praised “homes for the elderly,” especially those run by religious communities and volunteer groups that are committed to the care of the aged. What is most important, especially as America increasingly becomes a graying country, is to counter the culture of death by promoting a widespread attitude of acceptance and appreciation of the elderly, particularly within the family, so that people may grow old with dignity.

Leon Suprenant is the pastoral associate for administration in the Office of the Permanent Diaconate. For more information on the diaconate, visit www.archkck.org/deacons. This article, in abridged form, appeared in the October 24, 2014 edition of The Leaven.

My Journey from Pro-Choice to Pro-Life

29 Aug

CuomoWhen I returned to the Church in 1984, it wasn’t as though a decade of unchecked sinful habits and behaviors fell by the wayside.

The mighty struggle to replace vice with virtue continues to this day. After all, “denying myself” and “turning the other cheek” don’t come naturally.

I also had to convert on intellectual matters. I was fresh out of law school and something of a constitutional law scholar, having sharpened my legal teeth on Roe v. Wade jurisprudence. That year, New York Governor Mario Cuomo, the poster child of “I’m personally opposed, but” politics, captured my imagination with a stirring keynote address at the Democratic National Convention.

So, when I first came back to the Church, I brought my pro-choice ideology with me.

Of course, I was “personally opposed”–so much so that, even then, I would have gladly adopted a child rather than see him or her aborted.

But I wasn’t where I needed to be in terms of fully accepting the Church’s coherent pro-life ethic. It took a year of prayer, study, and conversations with friends before I realized that I needed to repent and do penance for my dissident views.

Recent Popes have emphasized that the current age is characterized not by a “crisis of charity,” but even more by a “crisis of faith.” That’s why Pope Benedict called an entire “Year of Faith.” We never hear about sins against faith, but if indeed we’re living through such a crisis, it stands to reason that sins against faith happen–and happen frequently.

When it comes to sins against charity, we’re usually able to come up with an excuse (e.g., “I was just letting off steam,” “My boss is a jerk,” “He shouldn’t have criticized my work,” “I didn’t think she’d take it personally”). At the end of the day, though, I think we all admit to sinning fairly regularly against charity. We realize that we hurt somebody, and so we try to reconcile as best we can with God and neighbor. Surely there are plenty of sins against charity to go around these days, and we do well to use a “charity scorecard” when examining our consciences.

On the other hand, sins against faith are seemingly “victimless” sins. Not only that, it takes a rare humility today to admit that we’re wrong about anything. And when it comes to religious convictions–true, false, or just plain weird–our society takes a “to each his own” approach.

Thus, in many Catholic circles today, rejection of Church teaching brings into play many fancy concepts, such as diversity, tolerance, plurality, lived experience, and primacy of “conscience.” But no mention of sin.

In its treatment of the First Commandment, the Catechism of the Catholic Church devotes three paragraphs (No. 2087-89) to sins against faith. The catechism says the First Commandment “requires us to nourish and protect our faith with prudence and vigilance, and to reject everything that is opposed to it.” I suspect all of us can do a better job of nourishing and protecting our faith.

The Catechism also identifies several sins against faith, including voluntary doubt, incredulity, heresy, apostasy, and schism. None of these sins is a four-letter word, but they may as well be, given the deliberate avoidance of these terms today.

Scripture frequently speaks of the necessity of faith for salvation. Indeed, without faith, it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6).

Faith entails the acceptance of all that Our Lord has revealed through his Church, based on His own authority as the Son of God. Mere agreement is not the same as faith, because then we’re putting Christ’s teachings through an approval process, rejecting anything that seems unacceptable to us.

But even acceptance of the person and teachings of Jesus Christ isn’t enough. We need to do what the Lord says (Luke 6:46). We must bear witness to our faith in our daily lives:

“So every one who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven; but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 10:32-33; see Catechism, no. 1816).

When we cultivate doubt or dissent, the result is spiritual blindness. Our choices are no longer guided by objective standards of moral conduct, and the Word of God ceases to be a light for our path.

We cannot be indifferent to the personal dimension of the “crisis of faith” in our midst, perhaps writing off those who seem to be set in their dissident ways. Yet, reaching out to those who struggle with sins against faith is a vitally important task–indeed, a spiritual work of mercy.

I’m very grateful that some people, whose charity was surpassed only by their patience, called me to conversion on the abortion issue.

Commitment Matters

18 Jun

Young men playing gamesI’m very concerned about the direction of many teenage boys today. They seem to lack motivation, focus, and religious sensibility, as they idly pass their time on their iPhones and X-Boxes.

Granted, this is to some extent a perennial issue. Many young men (like me!), after sowing some wild oats, eventually make the difficult transition from adolescence to adulthood and accept the responsibilities that come with it.

The present generation of teens has it a little tougher in some ways. Too many are raised without a strong sense of faith and family. They seem to have no mooring, no anchor to draw them back from the pagan society that has enveloped them.

And they have never learned about commitment. Instead, they have been brainwashed by the “anti-commitment” ideology of the culture of death and the entertainment industry.

I have much more than a passing or speculative interest in all this. I am the father of three daughters who are still single. I presume that not all of them will be called to the religious or single life, so I wonder about the “pool” of young men that will be on the scene as I wake up to find that my little girls have one-by-one become young women. After all, this is largely a post-divorce culture. While divorce is the tragic consequence of a commitment gone awry, many young people today (perhaps children of divorce themselves) don’t understand the point of commitment in the first place.

And then there are my young sons, and I wonder how they will navigate through this cultural morass and become men of honor and commitment.

As I completed law school I had a “re-conversion” to the Catholic faith, and I became very serious not only about the practice of the faith, but also about my attempt to live a God-centered, purpose-driven life. Yet even then I occasionally experienced the erratic tendencies of my adolescence. This was especially the case in my vocational discernment as I pursued, in quick succession, a legal career, religious life, and secular priesthood as a seminarian.

But then God put into my heart a love for the woman who would become my wife. Now, over 22 years later, despite my own limitations and sins, He has continued to give me the grace to love and serve Him through my faithful, self-giving love for Maureen.

All vocations in Christ are responses to God’s invitation to enter into an intimate, personal relationship with Him. This is nothing other than an invitation to love. How do we love Christ? How do we authentically love anybody? By giving completely of ourselves: by committing ourselves to the other.

The vocation to love God plays itself out differently in every person. For most of us, it will lead to another invitation—to enter into a marital relationship that reflects the union of Christ with His Church (see Ephesians 5:31-32). For others, it may lead to an invitation to the consecrated life or to the priesthood.

But the point is, love without commitment entails using God and others, not giving of ourselves to them. Without a sense of commitment, we are a culture, as C.S. Lewis would say, of “men without chests.” Without a sense of commitment, all vocations—including the primordial vocation to Christian holiness—fall by the wayside.

The current vocations landscape—and here I refer to the relative dearth of committed Catholic marriages as well as to the shortage of priests and religious—indeed poses serious pastoral challenges to the Church. Yet I think a concerted effort to restore a sense of commitment to today’s youth will go a long way with God’s grace toward fostering a new springtime of vocations in the Church.

One good place to start is by exhorting and equipping parents, teachers, and mentors to devote themselves to the youth, after the pattern of St. Paul: “So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us” (1 Thess. 2:8). When we authentically share the Gospel with the next generation, we are also sharing ourselves, becoming a gift to them.

This of course entails a challenge to the “older generation” to live what we teach. Young people don’t have any use for teachers unless they are first and foremost witnesses. Our own Christian commitment must be continually renewed through the Eucharist and manifested in virtuous lives of service to others.

These brief reflections on Christian commitment also have an obvious application to the goal of Catholic formation. So often the concern is about numbers (how many baptisms, RCIA candidates, seminarians, etc.) or about what catechism series is used or having the most up-to-date catechetical methods and technology aids.

While all those things are important, the goal of all Catholic formation, especially when it comes to youth, must be a personal commitment to Jesus Christ. Any so-called “vocation crisis” goes hand-in-hand with a “commitment crisis.” The perennial response of the Church to this challenge, amplified in recent years by Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI, is to introduce young people to the captivating person and life-giving teachings of Christ and let him or her fall in love.

The Book of God

1 Apr

Sisters win!In our series on the documents of Vatican II during this “Year of Faith,” we have spent some time examining Vatican II’s Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, Dei Verbum. This pivotal conciliar document has called Catholics to draw more effectively upon the life-changing power of Sacred Scripture.

The success of my daughter Sr. Evangeline and her team of sisters on The American Bible Challenge has given our culture a wonderful witness of how Catholics—and all people!—should come to know and venerate Scripture as God’s love letters to us.

And yet, Dei Verbum is not simply about the Bible. The title of this document itself is instructive. The Council Fathers did not call it Dei Librum (“Book of God”) but Dei Verbum (“Word of God”). The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us why this distinction is important:

“The Christian faith is not a ‘religion of the book.’ Christianity is the religion of the ‘Word’ of God, not a written and mute word, but incarnate and living. If the Scriptures are not to remain a dead letter, Christ, the eternal Word of the living God, must, through the Holy Spirit, open our minds to understand the Scriptures” (no. 108, footnotes omitted).

For All the Saints

One of the principal themes of the Second Vatican Council was the universal call to holiness. The renewal of the Church hinges on the ongoing sanctification of all her members. This is the work of God, but all the faithful must be personally engaged in the process.

Dei Verbum takes us to the point of entry into this new life in Christ Jesus. It comes down to the “obedience of faith” that we give to God as He reveals Himself to us (DV, no. 5). As our Lord Himself says, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it” (Lk 11:28).

It is the great mission of the Holy Spirit, the “soul of the Church,” to reveal Christ to us and bring us into communion with Him and all His holy ones. As St. Paul says, “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit” (2 Cor. 12:3). The gift of the Holy Spirit to the Apostles and to the entire Church surely includes the singular blessing of Sacred Scripture, but encompasses the totality of what Christ bequeathed to His Church, including the sacred liturgy. In this regard the Holy Spirit “is the Church’s living memory” (Catechism, no. 1099), making present and effective in our lives the saving work of Christ. Dei Verbum therefore affirms that Sacred Tradition and Scripture are bound closely together and flow from the same divine wellspring, which is none other than the Holy Spirit (no. 9).

Bible Christians

While Catholics do not limit God’s self-revelation to the Bible alone (“sola scriptura”), we must affirm with St. Jerome that “ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.”

The fact of the matter is that Catholics have not been well “versed” in Sacred Scripture. Surely, Catholics know much more of the Bible than we think we do–to the extent we’ve stayed awake at Mass and catechism class. Still, we experience something of an “inferiority complex” when it comes to the Bible. When challenged on the more controversial aspects of our faith with the dreaded “Where in the Bible . . . ?” questions, we are needlessly bewildered and intimidated.

Tragically, there are millions of Catholics raised since the mid-20th century in this country who have left the Church. Many, for one reason or another, have simply abandoned all religious practice, as the poor formation many Catholics have received has proven to be no match for the relentless secularism of our society. Some, however, have met “Bible Christians” who have found in these biblically hapless Catholics easy targets for their proselytism.

In my own life–despite 12 years of Catholic school–I found myself as a young adult woefully ignorant of Christ. Scripture was not a priority in our home and was not convincingly proclaimed at school or at Sunday Mass. Our beautiful, large, family Bible was used mostly to keep important documents and newspaper clippings flat (because of its size), and safe (because no one would ever think of opening it).

Even as the Holy Spirit was gently leading me home in the 1980s, it was difficult to find sound Catholic materials on Scripture. The first book I picked up discussed how St. Paul didn’t write many of the Epistles the Church attributes to him. The second book said we had to focus on the human Jesus and proceeded to explain away the miraculous occurrences in the Gospels. The third book went so far as to deny the Resurrection, saying that it wasn’t a historical event, but basically, “It’s the Church’s story and we’re sticking to it.” These were all considered mainstream “Catholic” books that I later encountered, among others, in seminary. No wonder we’re confused!

While there’s much more work to be done today, the climate is already subtly but unmistakably changing. My kids (not just Sr. Evangeline!) and their friends not only know the Catechism, but are quite at home–where they should be–in the Bible, and in fact have more of it memorized than I do. The Liturgy of the Word–not just at Mass, but also in other sacramental celebrations and the Liturgy of the Hours–now receives greater attention. The faithful are exposed to more of the Bible than before, and in its natural habitat to boot: the sacred liturgy. Catholics in unprecedented numbers are engaged in life-changing Bible studies. Catholic apologetics, thanks to Karl Keating, Pat Madrid, and so many others, has undergone a remarkable renaissance, such that Catholics are increasingly able to explain the biblical basis of our beliefs. Continue reading

Vatican II turns 50

11 Oct

Popes Benedict XVI and John Paul II have called the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) the interpretive key to understanding their respective pontificates and a “sure compass” for the Church in the new millennium.

For many of us, particularly my generation, Vatican II  is also the key for understanding our own pilgrimage of faith. Pope John XXIII called the 21st ecumenical council only months before I was born, and the council ended the year I entered first grade at St. Elizabeth’s school.

As we mark today the 50th anniversary of the opening of Vatican II, Pope Benedict has asked us to look at the council with fresh eyes, to consider where we’ve been and where we’re heading as a Church and as individual Catholics striving to be faithful to Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ during this “Year of Faith.”

My first encounter with Vatican II was an unforgettable lesson in first grade, when the teacher insisted over and over again that Vatican II (whatever that was) taught that the “Church” is not the building next door, but the “people.” While there’s an important and valid theological point there, at the time I still thought the building next door looked more like a “church” than my classmates did.

In third grade, as religious garb changed “because of Vatican II,” I was mesmerized by the fact that I could now see Sr. Ellen’s legs. Later that year, my mom explained to me that “because of Vatican II” many priests and religious were leaving their communities, including my beloved piano teacher.

Then in fifth grade, I gave up six months’ worth of recess–a real sacrifice; I lived for kickball–to be trained as an altar boy. Just as my confreres and I were considered prepared for this august service, we were told that the Mass was changing “because of Vatican II,” and so we needed to be retrained. Meanwhile, our church’s sanctuary was a construction zone the next several months, as the altar was moved forward and burnt orange carpeting was installed. I didn’t know what to think of this, though the carpet, irrespective of its aesthetic merit, was decidedly easier to kneel on.

In the eighth grade, I remember the teacher writing the word “ecumenism” on the blackboard. In fairness to her, I can’t recall whether she said anything that was contrary to the faith. However, I do know that the effect of the class on my classmates and me was that “because of Vatican II” it didn’t really matter whether one was Catholic. After all, “they will know we are Christians by our love.” I blithely continued to hone my collage skills and routinely brought home A’s in religion.

During my high school and college years, virtually all my peers left the Church, as did I. I remember well my ninth grade religion class in which we studied the Bible. We repeatedly were told about what we don’t believe anymore “because of Vatican II.” One got the impression that Vatican II painstakingly went through the Bible and identified for us all the myths, fables, and inaccuracies found in God’s inspired Word. In subsequent years, as I feebly groped for some spiritual guidance, I’d pick up a Catholic Bible or a Catholic biblical commentary and, rather than be nourished and buoyed in my faith, I was confronted with agnostic doublespeak.

The 80s Show

By the singular, undeserved grace of God, I accepted Jesus Christ back into my life as I completed law school in 1984. For me, this necessarily entailed walking back into the Church that so confused me “because of Vatican II.” Here’s what I found. Continue reading

Tie a Yellow Ribbon

18 Jun

Samuel (number 12) today

I originally wrote the following article for Lay Witness magazine in 2002, shortly after the adoption of our son Samuel. Since today marks the tenth anniversary of his adoption, I thought I would reprint it here, with some minor updates.

Maureen and I were married on February 2, 1991, during the Gulf War. At that time, people were tying yellow ribbons everywhere as a reminder of our loved ones who were away at war. We all needed reassurance during this time of conflict and uncertainty.

The homilist at our wedding told us that our marriage needed to be a yellow ribbon, a witness to life and love amidst the hatred, despair, and death we saw around us. We were newlyweds when the Gulf War ended, and of course now nation is still at war in that region, as well as embroiled in the ongoing, complex war against international terrorism.

Meanwhile, Maureen and I have quietly lived our marriage vows for over two decades. We remember Pope John Paul II telling us over and over again that civilization passes by way of the family. We are far from perfect, but we have taken seriously the challenge we received at our wedding–a challenge issued to all Christian families–to be joyful witnesses to Christ in the midst of the world.

The Lord has abundantly blessed our marriage with children. We have six beautiful children (they take after their mother) and 14 godchildren. [And now one grandchild.] We’ve welcomed at different times many others into our home, including our elderly parents, siblings, and college students. I thank the Lord every day for the singular gift of our family, our little domestic Church.

Yet we’ve also endured times of sorrow. Maureen has had several pregnancies end in miscarriage. Many families have experienced miscarriages and know what a silent, difficult cross they can be. After all, here we are in a contraceptive society, in a “culture of death,” willing to accept new life, only to have the child taken from us before we can even hold him or her. We’ve entrusted these little ones to our merciful Father, trusting amidst the tears that these tragedies are part of a larger, more glorious plan.

Family life isn’t a contest in which the players with the most children at the end of the game win. Yet Maureen and I wanted to be as open as possible to the Lord’s blessing. We have always considered adoption at some point, and after some of the pain from the miscarriages subsided, we realized in 2001 that we had room in our hearts and our home for another child. So we took the next step . . .

We didn’t have the money to go through an expensive agency. Further, we weren’t looking for a “designer baby” with all the “right” qualities. We simply wanted to be open to accept whatever gift the Lord would want for us.

We decided in February 2001 to receive 36 hours of “training” through the county to become certified as foster/adoptive parents. We also obtained a home study, a comprehensive report prepared by a social worker concerning the suitability of an adoptive family. We figured that by going through these at times onerous steps, we would be ready to act quickly should a child become available.

We had our home study sent to various Catholic Charities offices in our region. We expressed a willingness to consider any age, race, gender, or special needs, but we hoped for a younger child so that there would be a better chance of forming good attachments. We made ourselves available, and then we had to wait.

One morning in September 2001, months after completing our home study and only a few days before 9/11, Maureen commented to me how nice it would be to have a son. I nodded as I left for the CUF office. Later that day, I had slipped out of the office to go to our parish’s adoration chapel to prepare for a talk I was going to give that weekend. While I was there Maureen and my three youngest daughters tracked me down. They told me that we just received a call from Catholic Charities of Pittsburgh. We were going to be able to adopt a baby boy!

The baby was only two months old. Interestingly, the foster parents were calling him Samuel. I would have been inclined to go along with a noble biblical name like Samuel anyway, but remarkably I happened to be studying the book of 2 Samuel when I received the happy news from Maureen. Only later did I learn that Samuel John’s birthday was June 24th, the feast of the birth of John the Baptist, the new Samuel. (I do assure Maureen that she’s considerably younger than St. Elizabeth!)

Baby Samuel quickly became an integral part of our family. I couldn’t imagine loving a biological child more than I love Samuel. He is also now a loving big brother to Raymond, whom we adopted at birth in 2004.

We have much to teach Samuel, but he has already taught us so much. For one thing, his (usually!) pleasant, outgoing disposition and his “I’m just happy to be here” smile continually calls us to gratitude for God’s gifts and to put our worldly concerns in perspective.

Further, his addition to our family has been a concrete lesson on the gift of adoption that all of us received at Baptism. We are not second-class citizens but truly children of God. “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are” (1 Jn. 3:1). As we rejoice in the expansion of our little family, even more does our Heavenly Father take delight in sharing His glory with the creatures He has fashioned in His image and likeness.

Samuel’s story would not be possible without a whole network of people who were committed to the Gospel of life. I’m thinking of the various social workers and Catholic Charities personnel, Samuel’s loving foster parents, and our many family members and friends who have stormed heaven with their prayers and who have materially helped us in myriad ways. Above all, my heart goes out to Samuel’s birth mother. She read our anonymous “birth parent letter” and chose our family for her child. I pray with utmost confidence that our Lord will bless her heroic generosity and draw her closer to Himself.

I think we need to proclaim these little pro-life “success stories” to our contemporaries. In a world in desperate need of “yellow ribbons,” we must be ambassadors of a supernatural hope rooted in the goodness and promises of the Lord of Life. We know that Jesus Christ through His Church is the world’s salvation and hope, and in the power of the Holy Spirit we are able to tell one another and the world, “Do not be afraid.”