26 November 2008

Be not Afraid

As Catholics, we are called to be salt of the earth and light to the world, but so often we fail at this. We fail to speak out and up for the poor and vulnerable. I know that I have. I can't even begin to count the number of times I've thought "I should say something" but I haven't. Generally, it's out of fear- fear for what others will think, or fear of how it will reflect on my academic career. But I've begun to realize just how important it is to speak up; how powerful my voice can be. Society doesn't want us to speak up or speak out on the basis of values and principles, which is why it is so happy when we don't out of fear. The greatest fear of the people who are pushing us down the road to immorality in our society is that we will speak out. They know that voices have power.

I asked myself why people don't speak out- why are we so afraid. And the best answer I can come to is that we have very few examples of people speaking out. We should be able to turn to the church for examples, and solid pro-life clergy, especially at the higher levels are few and far between. I don't mean to accuse the clergy of not being pro-life; I am sure many are, but they seem to be just as afraid to speak out as the laity.

We are a church founded out of the greatest act of love and sacrifice the world has ever seen. Jesus didn't stay silent when things were wrong. Jesus lived his life boldly, and should provide us with the only example we need. As Catholics, we know that persecution is a part of life. We know that the road isn't an easy one, but that's no reason not to walk it. We are called to holiness, and called to be saints. Well, the fact is, many saints were martyred. They believed so strongly that they were willing to give up life itself. We are called to do nothing less.

So, where are the clergy in all this? Until the recent American election, I'd rarely heard priests and bishops speak out on pro-life issues. While I can't claim to have read every speech and pronouncement of every priest and bishop, until the recent election, I'd only ever heard 2 members of the clergy speak out on pro-life issues. The first is Bishop Fredrick Henry of Calgary; the second is Father Michael Bedard of Saskatoon. And I thank both men for having the courage to speak and teach the church's teachings. But, I wonder, where are the rest of the clergy?

Apparently I'm not the only one who has asked that question. That hit home today when I read a speech made by Tom Wappel to Catholic Clergy. Tom Wappel is a recently retired Liberal MP. Tom is also Catholic and pro-life. He is a long-time member, and former co-chair, of the Parliamentary Pro-Life caucus. He was an MP for twenty years and says he can essentially count on one hand then number of times he was asked to speak on life issues (his passion) to a group of Catholics. He said he never, in twenty years, heard from a member of the clergy above the rank of Monsignor. And then he posed a very good question, "Well, why should we be [speaking about life issues] if no one else is? Why should we be knocking our heads against a brick wall if no one is noticing, if no one is listening, if no one is offering encouragement, or appears not to be offering encouragement." That's not just directed at clergy, it's directed at ALL of us who claim to be pro-life.

At the end of his speech, he offered a list of 13 things that he thinks parishes should be doing to be more pro-life, and I think they are all great suggestions. They are directed at the parish priest, but many of them can be implemented by members of the laity who are involved in their parishes, so I'd suggest everyone take a look at them, and if you are active in your parish, propose some of them. If you aren't active, maybe it's time you ask yourself why; and then get involved. Because if you are too busy to speak for the vulnerable, who will?

Please don't get me wrong, I love the church, and I love her priests. I know that they are all busy men who work long hours offering the sacraments, acting as hospital chaplains, running a parish and a million other things. But I'm not asking them to take anything more on; I'm just asking them to teach what the church teaches to the parishioners. Many of them only show up once a week for an hour on Sundays (some even less often than that). But in that hour, the priest has an amazing opportunity to speak to them. We need to stop worrying about whether they will return the next week if they don't like the message. That's not what's important. What is important is Truth. People will hate the church, or leave the church or disagree with the church for many reasons. We can't stop that, but at least if the priests preach on ALL the church's teachings, they know what they are turning their back on. Then, the decision is theirs; and the priest has done his job.

I'm sure that drafting a homily is not an easy thing to do; trying to come up with something that all ages and vocations will get something from. And I know you don't want to be graphic with little children in the audience. But there are ways to discuss pro-life issues with children present. Seeing our clergy courageously speak for life will embolden all of us, and reinforce the teachings of the church. The clergy should lead us all, should teach us all, so please, SPEAK. Use the voice and opportunity you have been given.

And, laity- when your priest does speak on life issues; THANK-HIM; not just after mass, but write him a letter. Write the bishop a letter congratulating the priest. We are all quick to complain when we don't like something, but how often do we praise people when we do? If I (and you) am afraid sometimes to speak out, think about what the priest must be feeling as he stands before the congregation to preach. Give our priests some encouragement, so they can embolden us. As JPII reminded us "Be not afraid." Speak up for those who have no voice. And, always, always, pray for our clergy and pray for our MP's. The moment we stop praying is the moment we lose this battle.

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