Three Things I Learned at the Vita Institute

I had quite an adventure last week. Four flights. An unprecedented heat wave. Almost 133,000 steps. Close to 20 lectures by experts in their fields. About 50 new friends.  And last but not least, a Covid infection!

Thankfully, I picked up a lot more than Covid at the Vita Institute, a conference for pro-life leaders at the University of Notre Dame.  I expect I will be writing about this truly amazing experience for a long time, but while it’s still fresh in my mind, here are three things I learned:

  1. There is no such thing as a fertilized egg. (The union of egg and sperm is an entirely new cell that behaves completely differently from an egg, and this tiny human life is properly called a zygote.)
  2. Roe v. Wade is bad law. (And not because of what it legalized.)
  3. Pro-life leaders are a diverse group. (I plan to introduce you to many of them later–and if you believe the lie that they are all old white Republican men who hate women and don’t care about babies after they are born, prepare to be very surprised!)

Much more to come! The Institute was a blessing and I want to share every bit of it with you.

A Short Manifesto on Life Issues

In June, I will be attending the Vita Institute at the University of Notre Dame, “an intensive intellectual formation program for leaders in the national and international pro-life movement.”  I had to apply for this opportunity, and I thought my readers might be interested in how I answered the questions on my application.

I believe in the sanctity of all human life from conception until natural death. I believe that procured abortion is always wrong and that unborn lives should be protected by law. I also believe that our responsibility to unborn children and their mothers extends beyond making abortion illegal. I adhere to the Church’s teaching on contraceptives and believe that their use has led to a contraceptive mentality that is linked to the acceptance of abortion. I believe that the rise of various forms of fertility assistance, in separating conception from the marital embrace, is also related to abortion. I believe that if we pro-life Catholics want to be taken seriously by the wider culture, we need to center our efforts to end abortion firmly within Catholic Social Teaching and a consistent life ethic. I further believe that we need to demonstrate our care for all lives in both charitable and systemic ways.

I take to heart Saint John Paul the Great’s words from his Gospel of Life:  “Whatever is opposed to life itself, such as any type of murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia, or willful self-destruction, whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, torments inflicted on body or mind, attempts to coerce the will itself; whatever insults human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children; as well as disgraceful working conditions, where people are treated as mere instruments of gain rather than as free and responsible persons; all these things and others like them are infamies indeed. They poison human society, and they do more harm to those who practise them than to those who suffer from the injury. Moreover, they are a supreme dishonour to the Creator” (Evangelium Vitae 3).

My convictions often place me in uncomfortable situations and leave me without a political home. My critics struggle to fit me into our society’s convenient and restrictive liberal/conservative paradigm. But my convictions come straight from the teachings of the Church and that gives me strength to continue to proclaim them even when it is hard. And I believe the Church’s consistent ethic of life gives us a strong foundation from which to argue for all lives, whether they are the innocent unborn, the condemned murderer, the frozen embryo, or the terminally ill.

I was introduced to the topic of abortion accidentally as a young child when I stumbled across some pamphlets with pictures of aborted babies in a drawer in our home. I have been passionately pro-life ever since, with my activism taking different forms. I began by writing many letters to newspapers and government officials. I became a charter member and later chair of the Knoxville Diocese Respect Life Committee. I participated in Life Chains and Marches for Life for many years. I wrote a column on life issues for the East Tennessee Catholic, and later took the name of that column for my blog, where I have been writing on life issues since 2010. I have been active in the parish to which I have belonged since I was baptized as an infant, serving on the Pastoral Council as member and chair as well as on many other committees over the years. I have also served in various capacities as a volunteer at my children’s elementary school including serving as 8th grade Room Mother which involved fundraising for and planning graduation events. My husband has served as KOC Grand Knight, District Deputy, and 4th Degree Color Corps Commander, and I supported him in these endeavors as well.

Writing on my blog and elsewhere is my greatest passion and personal interest and I want to make more time for it going forward. I love to read and try to read at least six books a month, some for entertainment, but many to further educate myself. I enjoy hiking and usually walk at least three miles each day. I am a gardener and am in the process of replacing all the grass in my front yard with flowering plants.

As my nest empties, I find myself looking forward to the next stage of my life and wanting to work toward my professional goals. I want to spend more time on my writing and blogging, focusing on the intersection of faith and politics, particularly the Church’s Social Teachings. I want to create conversations among people of good will, educating Catholics and others and working to change hearts and minds on life issues.

In order to do this I want to be thoroughly grounded in these teachings, because it is very important to me to always be absolutely orthodox in anything I write. I want to learn from the kind of faculty the Vita Institute provides. My son is a Notre Dame graduate, so I am familiar with the ethos of the school and know I can expect excellence from any program it sponsors.  I have been very intentional over the last year about educating myself on issues of importance. I read books and articles every day from reputable sources, including both secular and spiritual books. Attending the Vita Institute is a natural next step in my self-education.

I believe I should be selected because I am a natural student and someone with her own reputation for excellence. My readers have told me they come to my page when they are looking for accurate information about Church teachings on the issues of the day, and I am very proud of that and take the responsibility seriously. The education I would receive via the Vita Institute would be shared with my audience, which includes both faithful Catholics and those of other or no faith traditions. And I look forward to the opportunity to learn from and collaborate with other like-minded attendees.

In 2012, the USCCB put out a statement on religious liberty which included the following statement: “Catechesis on religious liberty is not the work of priests alone. The Catholic Church in America is blessed with an immense number of writers, producers, artists, publishers, filmmakers, and bloggers employing all the means of communications—both old and new media—to expound and teach the faith. They too have a critical role in this great struggle for religious liberty. We call upon them to use their skills and talents in defense of our first freedom.” I was thrilled to see the importance of the work of Catholic bloggers lifted up by our bishops, and I want to live up to that trust by doing everything I can to make sure I represent Church teachings on life issues faithfully.

And there you have it! I look forward to sharing what I learn at the Vita Institute with you all.

What Is Love?

Well over 30 years ago, when I was a Sophomore at Georgetown University, a group of us gathered to explore ways we could deepen our commitment to our faith outside of weekly Mass attendance. We called our group “Beyond Dahlgren,” Dahlgren Chapel being the university’s main worship space.

We gathered for prayer and fellowship and at least one retreat over the next few years. Our sponsor/mentor was a young Jesuit named Father Bill Watson, and at some point he started bringing his friend Father Robert Spitzer to our gatherings.

Father Spitzer (who at the time preferred to be called just “Spitzer”) taught me metaphysics, lived in our dorm, and eventually officiated at our marriage and baptized our first child.

He was (and is) brilliant and enthusiastic, and I have never forgotten some of the wisdom he imparted in our wedding homily.

Father Spitzer continues to impart wisdom about love today. I consider it one of those “Holy Spirit moments” that I was invited to watch and write about his recent video on understanding love. Along with explaining how the Christian view of love differs from earlier understandings and how transformative it has been over the centuries, Father makes a plea for all Catholics to counteract our culture’s destructive ideas by challenging common conceptions of love.

“Being nice is not love,” Father reminds us. Rather, love is a self-gift for the good of the Other–the WHOLE person, eternally and without expectation. It’s not giving someone whatever they want, whenever they want it, when it is not good for the whole person in the long term.

While the Christian agape proclaimed by Jesus transformed the world, leading to the founding of Catholic health care, Catholic education, and Catholic public welfare organizations, Father explains that our culture’s redefinition of love has led to depression, anxiety, familial tensions, substance abuse, and suicide.

Father gives an impassioned explanation of the “intrinsic, unreserved value of every human life,” which informs all Catholic social teaching on the sanctity of and care for life from conception to natural death. Watching this video energized me to continue doing what I can to “re-educate our culture” at home, in my social circles, and through my writing.

This post was inspired by a recent talk on Understanding Love by Father Robert Spitzer of Healing the Culture.  Healing the Culture is an international leader in pro-life advocacy, delivering respect life education to millions of people by advancing universal principles of logic, ethics, and justice.  Through their online resources, K-12 curricula, leadership training programs, and media productions, Healing the Culture has helped countless individuals reject abortion and euthanasia and become effective pro-life advocates.

When You Became You: A Scientifically Accurate Celebration of Human Beings

I have an article published in the Spring issue of Celebrate Life Magazine.

Brooke and Christiane worked with a New York Times best-selling illustrator for four months, providing guidance and ideas for the illustrations. According to Brooke: “The illustrations truly capture and enhance the essence of the book’s scientifically accurate celebration of our shared humanity, in terms of human development. The illustrator [who was advised by her American partners to omit her name from the book due to its “controversial” nature] took great care to make the artwork engaging and beautiful while keeping the science at the center of the story.”

These beautiful illustrations are inspired by the Carnegie Stages of Human Embryonic Development and by actual images of preborn human beings at various stages. In addition, the illustrations “incorporated abstract DNA strands, the infinity symbol, the Earth, the solar system, chemical symbols, elements from the periodic table, etc. to reinforce the message that we are introducing children to important science about when a human being . . . begins to exist.” 

You can read the rest here!

More Than Politics

I recently was honored to appear on Julie Varner Walsh‘s brand-new podcast, More Than Politics,  a “podcast for those of us who want something more than what we’ve come to expect from politics — and from our political discourse. Each week, More Than Politics will feature a conversation that helps put today’s politics in context, that honestly and charitably explores the issues of the day, that encourages us to engage in politics in a moral, even loving way.

I have been enjoying the podcast since it began–I feel smarter every time I listen!  Julie and I had a great discussion about feeling politically uncomfortable.  You can listen to it here.

And you can expect to be seeing more political posts from me (or that’s what I currently intend, anyway) as we get closer to the Presidential Election.

Unethical Vaccines: From HeLa to COVID-19

I recently wrote an article on the connection between abortion and vaccines for the American Life League‘s Celebrate Life magazine:

Baltimore, 1951: A young woman lay dying in her hospital bed, her body riddled with cancer. Before her death, doctors scraped some cells from her cervix. Later, without her knowledge or consent, those cells—“the first immortal human cells ever grown in a laboratory”—became instrumental in innumerable medical studies and discoveries.1 They also generated incalculable wealth. 

That young woman was Henrietta Lacks, and if you’ve heard her name, it’s because of Rebecca Skloot’s curiosity. One day in a biology class, Skloot encountered a picture of the unnamed woman whose cells were known as HeLa, their donor little more than a footnote in a textbook. Skloot’s determination to learn that woman’s name led to her best-selling book The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. Lacks’ descendants, many of them struggling in poverty, have never received a penny from the millions generated by her cells.

But Lacks is not the only unknown and unknowing person whose cells have contributed to medical advances.

Read the rest here.

Love Your Neighbor: Wear Your Mask

Once upon a time, a man was given the opportunity to pay a visit to both Heaven and Hell, accompanied by a guide.

Upon arriving in Hell, he was amazed to see a long table laden with a banquet of every delicious food imaginable.  But rather than enjoying the food, the residents of Hell were arguing, complaining, crying.  It was then that he realized the only utensils available to the would-be diners were spoons so long that it was impossible for anyone to eat with them.  The condemned were doomed to suffer an eternity of longing for food they were unable to eat.

Next his guide led the man to Heaven, where he was surprised to see a nearly identical scene–the delectable banquet, the extra-long spoons.  But instead of the wailing and gnashing of teeth he had witnessed in Hell, he saw that the inhabitants of Heaven were smiling, talking with one another, even laughing–and EATING.  The difference? In Heaven, everyone was using their long spoons to feed their neighbors on the opposite side of the table.

I read this story over 40 years ago in one of my grandmother’s old Readers Digests, but I’ve never forgotten it and have often repeated it.  And it rose into my mind abruptly this week when I read a local reporter’s account of the failure of most people to wear the masks that have been recommended while in public as long as pandemic conditions continue.

Every day I read online diatribes from those who refuse to wear masks because this is America or because they are so uncomfortable or because they don’t like being forced to do anything or even because no one should tell them what to do with their own bodies.  Do I even need to tell you how ridiculous it sounds when professed pro-life Christians go around saying such things?

Here’s the real reason people aren’t wearing masks: mask-wearing has a negligible protective effect upon the wearer.  What masks do well, though, is prevent a potentially ill wearer from spreading germs to others.  I wear a mask to protect you, and you wear one to protect me.  Some especially vulnerable folks–like my friend’s medically fragile son–have difficulty wearing masks and are especially counting on the goodwill and compliance of the rest of us.

The freedom and individualism prized by Americans diametrically oppose the idea of being required to do something that only benefits others, not themselves.  However, some 75% of Americans claim to be Christians and should therefore be ready to love their vulnerable neighbor by wearing masks even if it were not required.

Instead, it would appear that we Americans are a selfish bunch doomed to a Hell of our own making.

Guest Post: Honoring the Dignity of the Shortest Lives

The following is a guest post from my friend Heidi Indahl, and all photos are hers.  You can learn more about Heidi and her ministry at the end.

From Conception to Natural Death.

As Catholics, we use this phrase often.  Honoring the dignity of life from conception leads us to protest abortion laws and educate others on the nature of contraception.  The dignity of life at the point of natural death leads us to rally against assisted suicide laws and elder abuse.  To honor the space in between is to act for social justice and for the benefit of the marginalized.  Have you ever stopped to consider, however, what honoring the dignity of the human person from conception to natural death looks like when only a short time passes between the two?

Such are cases of miscarriage, stillbirth, and infant death.

As a church, can we do a better job of including these smallest of persons (and as an extension, their families) into our work as a pro-life, pro-marriage, pro-family people?

I think we can.

And more importantly, I believe we should.

I believe speaking for babies lost to miscarriage, stillbirth, and infant death is as hard as it is because the world has written these lives off as unpreventable losses . . . casualties of natural law and the fallen state.  Health care providers blur the line between early miscarriage and chemically induced abortion in their usage of terminology and procedures.  Celebrities grieve their miscarriage publicly one day and shout their abortion the next.  Family and friends tell women every single day to get over it because it just happens.  We all have a thousand messages a day telling us that the unborn baby is not a life that is important.  Even when we know the truth, the culture makes it easy . . . indeed, safer . . . to just stand by thinking, man, I hope that doesn’t happen to me!

And yet, it does happen.

Statistics of pregnancy and infant loss remain relatively unchanged.  We might not be able to change the frequency of this death through legislation or social justice action, but we can change the reality for a forgotten group of people inside our faith communities.

All of the unborn deserve dignity in their deaths.  They deserve to be properly buried if at all possible.  They deserve to be remembered in the prayers of the Church through mass and other available rites.  Their families need the same social support and comfort that we provide to all those grieving the loss of a beloved member of their family.  We are not just supposed to bury the dead, pray for the dead, and comfort the sorrowful when it is convenient, easy, and socially acceptable.  We are supposed to do it for every single human person that it is in our control to do so for.

I regularly speak with well-catechized, every-Sunday Catholics who have no idea that the Church provides a variety of funeral and naming rites, memorial suggestions, burial sites and more** for infants who pass away before or shortly after birth.   Women whose doctors say flush the fetus and they do, because no one has ever told them there is another option.

We can do better for our friends, our family, and ourselves.

A couple facing pregnancy and infant loss should never wonder inside the walls of the Catholic Church if their child’s life was valued and important.  It was.  Our whole pro-life argument is centered around the idea that the value of a life isn’t different because the life hasn’t existed as long or hasn’t produced the same contribution to society.  That doesn’t cease to be true because a person has passed away.

Every person matters from conception to natural death, because we know God formed human beings in His image and likeness.  Not because of their contribution to society.  Not because of their age, race, gender, or hair color.  Not because of the circumstances of their conception or death.  But because in them is the image and likeness of God himself.

And in them we can find God.

**Check with your local diocese for approved options.  If they don’t know, advocate for the next family to face this grave loss by helping get something in place!
_________________________________________________________

The mother of seven living children, three miscarried babies, a stillborn daughter, and a daughter who passed away shortly after birth, Heidi Indahl is the author of Blessed Is the Fruit of Thy Womb: Rosary Reflections for Miscarriage, Stillbirth, and Infant Loss and 67 Ways to Do the Works of Mercy with Your Kids.   With a passion for sharing her pregnancy and infant loss journey, she does so in a way that can enrich the spiritual life of all women while also improving the way we think and talk about pregnancy and infant loss to promote a genuine culture of life, centered in the truths of our Catholic faith. 

For more information and additional pregnancy and infant loss resources, visit Heidi’s website.

 

Educator Spotlight: Beth Einhorn

This article was originally posted on the Culture of Life Studies blog.

Beth Einhorn teaches English and language arts in grades 5-8. Her passion for teaching, coupled with her 12 years of teaching experience, give her the tools to not only inspire students, but to drive them to think and make a positive impact on the world around them. She is “completely passionate about teaching teens how to build their own unique relationships with God,” and part of that is helping them to know the value of all human beings. She laments that kids “have grown up in a culture where life is not valued” and states that “we must empower our kids at an early age and give them the encouragement to have a  voice to stand up for their beliefs.”

Beth believes in a direct approach with her students. She says, “It is not enough to simply tell them that abortion is wrong. Teenagers need to know why God’s people are against the act of abortion.”

Read the rest here.