Here is a sample of some of the features in the January/February 2014  issue of The Long Island Catholic Magazine. To subscribe to the magazine click here.  To read online versions of previous issues click on the “About Us” tab on our homepage and go to “Past Issues of Magazine” or click here.

 

faith and new works

by Bishop William Murphy

Mary, the Mother of God and the Church

For us Catholics, the New Year begins with the Solemn and Joyous Feast of Mary, the Mother of God. This is the oldest feast in honor of Mary and commemorates the Council of Ephesus in 431 when the bishops of the Church protected the truths about Jesus contained in the Creed we profess every Sunday.

That Creed was being undermined by some theologians and some religious who were claiming that Mary was only the Mother of the “earthly” Jesus and not the Mother of God. The people of God, especially in eastern dioceses such as Constantinople, knew there was something wrong in such preaching but they were incapable, on their own, of resolving the question. Then as now it fell to the bishops, gathered in Council, to find the language and the formula to protect the integrity of our faith. St. Cyril of Alexandria was the theologian-bishop who was most forceful in enunciating that faith. His sermon on Mary as Mother of God is a masterpiece that is always worth re-reading.

There is something else we can learn about the Church from that Council and others like it up to and including the Second Vatican Council. The Church is called into existence by Jesus Christ who, on the night before He died, commissioned the apostles to “do this in memory of me.” The Church is the visible sign of Christ’s life in the world. She is alive by the gift of the Holy Spirit, the inner, invisible treasure of God’s love which guarantees that the Church is to continue to proclaim the truths of God’s plan of salvation and make that plan real for one and all who are baptized into her life. Thus we rightly can say that the Church is the spotless Bride of Christ, for she is faithful to her Spouse with a faithfulness that mirrors Mary, the Mother of God whose “yes” to the angel is the means through which the Son of God became man for the salvation of us all.

Of course the Church is visible because she lives and exists in the world for the world. She is made up of you and me, men and women, with all the lights and shadows of our human existence. We can say that the Church is holy and yet, at the same time, the Church is constantly in need of becoming holier because her members are constantly being called to repentance, renewal and to belong more deeply to Christ.

What saves the Church is the Holy Spirit, which is God’s love vivifying the Church and her members through the sacraments, especially the Eucharist, and through the life of faith, hope and charity which makes us witnesses of Christ in the world. At the same time, the Church needs a visible means to guarantee that she stays faithful to the message of Christ and faithfully proclaims the truths about God and His relationship to us which alone make us free. That is where the commission of Jesus to the apostles and their successors enters in.

In God’s plan as revealed by His Son, the apostles and the bishops after them are charged by God to govern, teach and sanctify the Church, the People of God on earth. This is not a commission of merely human origin. Neither is it a role that was invented or developed as a sociological phenomenon. It is of divine inspiration and it is guaranteed by the gift of the Holy Spirit given to bishops through the sacrament of holy orders, which transforms those so ordained to be true successors of the apostles, guarantors of the life of the Church.

That is why what happened at Ephesus is important for us. It shows how it is that the Church’s life can be guaranteed against falsehood and error. It shows us why the Church can have confidence born of faith that the Church does not err in matters of faith and morals. Individual persons may be unworthy of their office. Some, even some popes, may be personally guilty of grave sin. But thanks to the gift of the Holy Spirit which is conferred through Episcopal ordination, popes and the college of bishops in union with him cannot err in teaching faith and morals and are the guarantors of the unity of the Church for the good of the faithful and the salvation of the world.

Too many in the Church today, it is sad to say, align themselves with the Church’s despisers by denying formally or informally this basic truth about the Church and her life. “The pope is not simply a part of what is good for the Church. The pope is of the esse, the very being of the Church.” Or as the Second Vatican Council says of bishops, the bishops have by divine institution taken the place of the apostles as pastors of the Church in such wise that whoever listens to them is listening to Christ and whoever despises them despises Christ and Him who sent Christ.

As we begin this New Year, I share this with you that we all hold to the same truths. I equally do so to beg your prayers for our beloved Pope Francis, for all bishops and for me as we seek to serve you and guide you and be one with you in unity of faith and charity of life.

Bishop William Murphy is the fourth bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Rockville Centre. Visit Bishop’s blog at www.licatholic.org, or email believeandprofess@drvc.org.

feature story

By Rick Hinshaw 

Helping a mother choose life

On a cold Saturday morning late last January, Angelica Ramirez, a Brooklyn mother, and 16-year-old Colette Sweeney of Hicksville set out from their homes for the same destination. They did not know each other. And they could not have known that as the day unfolded, their lives would come together into a beautiful story of faith and love — and a courageous affirmation of life — that they both now know was inspired by the Holy Spirit.

Angelica and Colette were both headed — with very different purposes — to the Margaret Sanger Planned Parenthood abortion clinic on Bleecker Street in Manhattan.

Angelica, pregnant and with three children to care for and a history of difficult pregnancies, was going to the clinic with the baby’s father, Jonathan Dumeng, for the abortion she felt she had to have. She was not anticipating an encounter with someone like Colette.

Colette, however, was coming to the Sanger clinic precisely in the hope that she would meet, and have a chance to talk to, someone like Angelica.

Just back with her family — parishioners of Holy Name of Jesus in Woodbury — from the previous day’s March for Life in Washington, D.C., Colette was coming into the city as she does with her dad, Mike, virtually every Saturday to pray and to offer sidewalk counseling and positive alternatives to those entering the abortion clinic.

Their ministry there began several years ago, Mike Sweeney explained, with a “Witness for Life” organized by the pro-life Helpers of God’s Precious Infants the first Saturday of every month. The event begins with Mass at the old St. Patrick’s Basilica on Mulberry Street, followed by a procession to the abortion clinic, where participants pray the rosary and some engage in sidewalk counseling.

The idea, explained Mike and his wife — also named Colette, and who also does sidewalk counseling — is to gently approach those entering the clinic and try to engage them in conversation, helping to make them aware of the development of their babies, the various physical and psychological dangers of abortion and the alternatives available to them.

“One of the first things I tell people is what we can provide,” the younger Colette said, whether it be help with material needs, medical assistance, housing or spiritual and emotional support. “I just let them know they are not alone, there are many people on their side.”

Among those who are on their side are the Sisters of Life, who maintain a mission nearby on East 71st Street, to where the pro-life counselors guide a woman or a couple who have a change of heart, or who at least become willing to explore other options besides abortion.

Colette, now a senior at Kellenberg Memorial High School in Uniondale, first joined in the prayer witness while her dad counseled. “I knew praying the rosary did something,” she said, “but I felt I wanted to do more. So I asked my dad,” and he agreed. After some training, she started to do sidewalk counseling when she was 15; on her first day, unbeknownst to her until later, she “had a turnaround.

“It was very emotional,” she recalled. When the couple whom she had been talking to continued on into the clinic, “I started crying,” she said, realizing, “She had a baby inside her.” Later that day, the Sisters of Life called the Sweeneys to tell them the couple had left the clinic and contacted the Sisters.

Then, on that day last January, Colette met Angelica and Jonathan as they walked toward the abortion clinic.

“I had a history of early deliveries and C-sections,” Angelica explained, and so she was “afraid” of possible health risks in “going through that process again.”

“When I got to the clinic,” she recalled, “Colette and another woman were out front.”

“I was at the corner, and saw a couple walking in,” Colette recounted. “I talked to them for awhile, told them about the resources we had available,” but “the wife just said ‘Yeah, we’re OK, we’re good.’”

“I did ignore her,” Angelica said, “but she was persistent. I admire that.”

“I told her the physical effects of abortion,” Colette said, without being aware of Angelica’s previous medical history. Later, she learned that after they had gone into the clinic, Angelica used her smartphone to research and confirm the abortion risks Colette had told her about.

Also unknown to Colette at the time, just “the week before,” Angelica related, “I had accepted Jesus in my life. So at the clinic I prayed about it, I looked at the pamphlets Colette gave me and I asked the Holy Spirit to tell me what to do. I cried.” She had had an abortion once before, she said, and it had not affected her this way. “I knew this was God at work.”

Then “the icing on the cake,” she said, was the coldness she experienced from the personnel in the Sanger center. “Nobody talked to me, nobody cared,” they just wanted to “do the procedure,” she said. She thought about the dangers Colette had discussed with her, and realized “they don’t tell you that” inside the clinic. “I started to cry and cry and cry,” she said, “and I thought, ‘This is God.’ I stormed out of there, called the number on the pamphlet” for the Sisters of Life and she and Jonathan went straight to their Visitation Mission.

While a number of the 11 Sisters and co-workers at the mission were still in Washington following the March for Life, “a few of us stayed behind” precisely to be available to those who need their help, explained Sister Monica Faustina. “We want to be the ones to receive women or couples when they have a change of heart.”

“I was really scared before I knocked on that door,” Angelica said. But “when they found out there is support,” Sister Monica said, “it gave them hope. We introduced them to a couple to be their support team,” as well as to a social worker, and assured them of help for whatever practical needs they might have — maternity clothes, baby items and the like — as well as emotional support.

“We have had their support from the day we met them,” Angelica said. “They told us, ‘If you need anything, call us.’”

She also had the full support of Jonathan, who told her that as they were traveling to the Sanger center that morning, “He was praying that I would not have the abortion.”

“He is such a loving, responsible father,” Sister Monica said.

On August 3, Angelica gave birth to Jada Sky Dumeng.

“It’s overwhelming at times,” Angelica said, but with such support around them, she, Jonathan, their baby and all their children are doing well. And she wants others to know her story and to take hope from it.

“I want to tell women not to give up, to have hope, to have faith,” she said.

And so, in early November, she visited Villa Maria Guadalupe, the Sisters of Life retreat center in Stamford, Conn., to take part in a video they are producing for use on college campuses.

“They helped me choose life,” she said of the Sisters. “I am grateful to them, and whatever I can do for them I will.”

Colette and her family also were invited to that event at Villa Maria Guadalupe, and so, on that November day, some nine months after they had met outside the Sanger center, Colette got to meet and hold the baby whose life she had helped to save.

“I admire Colette,” Angelica said. “She’s brave, courageous. It’s hard to stand out there and try to stop someone from having an abortion, telling them it’s going to be OK. God uses people like her, who help people who don’t have someone. We need more people like her.”

“I know the Holy Spirit is with us,” Colette said, “helping us with what to say at the right time.

“A lot of people don’t want us there,” she added, “but it’s all worth it. Holding that baby for the first time reminded me why I got involved.”

“I have this warm feeling in my heart, love for her,” Angelica said. “She’s like family now. I think that’s what God wants.”

Sidebar story: They are not alone

Neither the women and couples who come to the Margaret Sanger Planned Parenthood clinic for abortions, nor the counselors outside who try to persuade them to choose life are ever alone, said Mike Sweeney, who, along with his wife and daughter, is among those pro-life sidewalk counselors. “There is a lot more to it,” he says, than an individual counselor’s immediate encounter with a woman or a couple.

There are, first, all who maintain a pro-life presence outside the clinic — other counselors and those offering prayers and support for the counselors and for those entering the abortion clinic. Mike points to Pro Bikers for Life, an organization with chapters in states around the country, which has as its mission “to preserve human life through counseling and prayerful presence at clinics where the abortions are taking place.” Members help maintain a regular prayer and counseling presence at the Sanger abortion clinic.

Then there are the educational materials that counselors are able to tap into and share with women contemplating an abortion. For example, Mike noted the website “The Endowment for Human Development” (ehd.org) provides state-of-the art video showing the living development of babies in utero. Counselors can immediately pull it up on their electronic devices to show a woman or couple interested in knowing more about their own baby’s development.

“A lot of people don’t know what’s going on inside their bodies,” said Mike’s wife Colette — who also volunteers at the Life Center of Long Island, which similarly provides pregnancy support services to women and pro-life educational resources. “When you show them videos or photos” of the stages of fetal development, “they’re shocked,” saying “that’s what my baby looks like?!”

Critical to helping women and couples choose life is the ability to refer them immediately for support services when they have a change of heart and want an alternative to abortion. They find such loving support at the Visitation Mission of the Sisters of Life. Eleven Sisters and co-workers staff the mission, responding to phone calls and welcoming women in crisis.

“We get about 700 calls a year from pregnant women, of all different backgrounds,” Sister Monica Faustina said — most are local, but some from different areas of the country. They respond, warmly and lovingly, to the immediate needs of those who come to them — material, medical, emotional — and are able to tap into a wide network of co-workers to help address whatever long-term needs women and their babies might have. That ongoing support, before, during and after the baby is born, is critical, Sister Monica said. “They can get discouraged, they need someone to believe in them.”

“The Sisters of Life don’t just forget about them once the baby is born,” Mike emphasized. “They stay with them,” continuing to support mother and child.

“When you help save a life,” said his daughter Colette, “it’s not just the baby’s life, but the mother’s, too.”

Ultimately, the Sweeneys emphasize, all these efforts are dependent first and foremost on a higher power.

“It is the grace of the Holy Spirit,” said Mike, and people all over the world “praying for abortion-minded women.” And he hopes more will join in that effort.

“As Catholics, we’re not supposed to stand on the sidelines, we’re called to be involved,” he said, noting the many ways to support the pro-life cause: attending the March for Life, volunteering at places like the Life Center, sidewalk counseling and donating or raising funds for pro-life work and support services. But everyone, he said, can take the time to offer prayers for unborn children, for their mothers and for the success of pro-life efforts.

“Let your faith be your shield,” he said.