Marching for Life in the UK

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IMG_1948Why are Pro-Life marches always done in the freezing cold?

While studying here in Birmingham (England, not Alabama) I got news of a March for Life occurring on Sunday. My fellow students are I were pretty excited about it, and Maryvale Institute rearranged our sessions so we could all be there. Apparently, it was only the second March for Life in the UK, and the one in Birmingham was for the whole country.

It was a different kind of excitement to march in Birmingham as opposed to Washington, DC. In DC, it was amazing to be a part of such a huge event—over half a million people. But in the UK, I was one of hundreds, not hundreds of thousands. I’m poor with numbers, but I’d say there were seven to eight hundred people there (if you were there, correct me in the comments.)

It also gave me the opportunity to learn more about abortion in the UK. Abortion has been legal in England since 1967. They now have about 200,000 abortions each year, and the amount of abortions since it was legalized is estimated between 7 and 8 million.

Though they have had legalized abortion longer than we have, they haven’t had as many organized pro-life events. 40 Days for Life began in the UK just recently, and the speakers at the March noted how young the Pro-Life movement was, both in age and in participation: like DC, many of the participants were young adults.

We turned many heads as we walked through the busy shopping district of Birmingham. We all held yellow balloons that said LIFE. Though ecumenical, it was clearly driven by the Catholic Church—there were many priests, religious, and seminarians, all praying the rosary and singing songs to our Lady as we walked through the streets. The organizers warned us that their might be some hostility, but the attitude of most of the onlookers was more of curiosity than condemnation. I don’t think they’ve ever seen something like that before.

Being so small, they didn’t shut down roads for us. There were some folks to help us cross streets, but at times the front half had to wait for the second half to get through the crosswalks. That’s actually one of the things I thought was so cool about the event. In DC, you’re surrounded by other Pro-Lifers. Here, you were surrounded by the everyday culture.

And it was cold. SO cold. I’m not sure if it was colder than DC or just felt that way because I wasn’t prepared for it. By the end I was limping because my feet were numb. But I was only wearing flimsy PF Flyers and it was snowing outside. Next year, I’ll bring boots.

For those I got to meet at the march, it was a blessing! Let us all continue to pray for an end to abortion in the US, the UK, and the entire world.

Celebrating Life (including mine)

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Verizon CenterWhat a blessing it is to be alive! I think it’s easy to take our lives for granted. But every year at my birthday I’m overwhelmed that God loved me enough to make me. I didn’t do anything to deserve being alive—it was a gift, pure and simple, from God.

I finished the last day of my 40th year by standing up in front of 17,000 people and sharing how beautiful life is at every moment—from conception to natural death. I can’t imagine a better honor than to have shared the Gospel of Life with so many. I’m grateful to the Archdiocese of DC for that opportunity.

And I started my 41st year doing the same. I gave a talk at St. Martin’s Parish in Gaithersburg, MD and got to do one of my favorite things: lead music during a Holy Hour. The same Christ present on the altar at the Verizon Center was the same Christ present in the gym at St. Martin’s. I’m honored to be His opening act :)

Those tricky people at St. Martin’s. When I told them it was my birthday they were like, “Really? We had no idea! You should have told us!” But then it turns out they knew it all along:

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And it even had a bow tie on it! Well played.

The only downside of the weekend was not to have my whole family there, but I did have Kolbe and Bobby with me. They said their favorite part was getting busted by Verizon security before the doors to the event open.

My kids are such a blessing to me. And I’m happy to announce another one on the way:

photoThe mysterious Rice child shall appear July 2013, right in the middle of summer conferences, because it’s not like I’m busy then or anything.

We don’t know the gender yet, but I’m guessing it’s a boy. We’ll know in Feb and I’ll tell you then. And yes, we do find out, because we didn’t find out for our first kid and ended up with a lot of green and yellow onesies.

All in all, last weekend was a beautiful celebration of life. Thanks for all who were part of the March for Life last weekend, whether through pilgrimage or prayer. Let’s continue to pray that all life would be treated with the dignity it deserves.

The Most Important Result is Still To Come

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Well, about 48% of the country is unhappy right now. Consider me one of them.

Like many, I’ve been invested in this election. Read numerous stories and blogs on the Internet. Followed the debates. Talked about it a lot. Prayed. Voted. And yet the same guy who was elected President four years ago is the same guy who got voted in today. Once again he’s talking about “hope” in front of a cheering Chicago audience. After the speech they played Bruce Springsteen’s “We Take Care Of Our Own.”

I would have rather had an election result that ended with Taylor Swift’s “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together.”

I’m not the only one who prayed and fasted for this day. At Church every Sunday (and daily) we’ve been praying or our country and for the election. Though the prayers never specifically said, “We pray Mitt Romney wins,” that seemed like an easy connection to make. We prayed for a president that respects the dignity of the unborn. We prayed for a president that respects religious freedom.

And yet we now have a president who seems to not care about either of those two important issues. He is more concerned with the rights of same sex couples to be married than the rights of unborn children to live. He is more concerned with the “rights” to free contraceptives than the rights of religious freedom.

So… were our prayers unanswered? Our novenas wasted? On the surface, it seems to be that way.

But God isn’t done yet. He just rarely answers prayers the way we think He will.

God isn’t into democracy. Jesus said, “Follow me,” not, “vote for me.” Though we might feel that our prayers for the election weren’t heard, God is bigger than an election. He’s about saving souls and changing hearts.

Abortions in this country are down. Why? Because abortion centers are closing due to movements such as “40 Days for Life.” This is the most pro-life generation the country has ever seen. Hearts are changing. That’s the work of God, not man. Man can create a law to make something “legal” or “illegal.” But only God makes things “right” or “wrong.” The law is external, the Spirit is internal. God is more concerned about the heart.

Same-sex marriage? Yes, it’s disappointing that same sex marriage won a popular vote in Maine and Maryland. Proponents say this is the beginning of a national trend (as if the 30 previous states who voted against same sex marriage don’t matter.) That may be true. But I think we need to do better in talking about what marriage really is. We’ve been hoping for a vote to “protect marriage,” but perhaps we’ve been too focused in “out-voting” the issue than explaining it. Now we have to be more articulate. I can’t see that as a bad thing.

Religious freedom? That battle is far from over. More lawsuits have been leveled toward the Federal Government on this matter than any other in American history, and most of lower court results have been respecting religious rights. Obama’s reelection doesn’t make the HHS mandate a slam dunk, though that would have been nice—just as it would have been a non-issue if Obamacare was flipped by the Supreme Court. But it seems we’re just not going to get any short cuts on this: the issue of religious freedom will need to be directly addressed by the Supreme Court. And that could be a great thing.

One “positive” thing you can say about Obama is that he’s done more to unite the Catholic Church in America than anyone in the past 50 years. He got every Catholic bishop to stand against him. He also did a lot to unite the Christian Church—remember Mike Huckabee saying, “Today, I’m Catholic!” Heck, he even got evangelical Christians to back a Mormon for president.

If we had woken up this morning with the headline, “Romney is the President,” we might have gone back to sleep feeling secure in one nation under God. We could be thankful that this HHS nonsense is over and we can go back to our lives. We could be hopeful that abortions would be reduced thanks to government intervention. That’s how I hoped to start the day.

But God does not want us asleep. He wants us awake. He wants us to do the same thing we’ve been doing: pray, work, and fast for our country.

If we thought we could wake up and feel safe about these issues because Romney got elected then we’d be as foolish as those on the other side of these issues who think Obama is the “savior.” We can’t depend on the government for our spiritual “welfare.” We’ve got to go out and proclaim God’s truth with our lips and share His love from our hearts.

I’m bummed that Obama won. I know a lot of people who worked really hard during this election and I can’t imagine how devastated they feel: any time you spend work on a “failed” effort it’s always heart-breaking.

But I still have hope, and not the “hope” that Obama talked about to a cheering crowd this morning. His “hope” was optimism based on the human spirit; our hope is rooted in Jesus Christ and in His saving power. The hope Obama offered four years ago hasn’t materialized, but our hope in Christ is “an anchor for the soul, firm and secure” (Heb 6:19.)

The re-election of Barack Obama means that Christians in the United States have to stay united and actively proclaim the truth of the Gospel if we are to protect the values we believe were given to us from God. It means we have to pray more, work harder, and be more active in sharing our faith. If we do that, it would be a more important “result” than any political office we could ever vote for.

I’ll end with what we prayed in Mass this morning: “The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear? The Lord is my life’s refuge; of whom should I be afraid?” (Psalm 27:1)

Proud to be an American Catholic

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Ten years ago, in the midst of a well publicized sexual scandal, it was tough to show your pride in the American Catholic Church. Story after story flooded the news of abominable actions done by priests while some bishops and cardinals seemed to purposely look the other way, allowing further abuse to incur. I remember listening to a heart-breaking homily by a pastor who wept as he shared how he instinctively took his collar off when someone came from behind him and asked if he was a priest. It was a difficult time.

We who were faithful knew that the Church was more than the media portrayed and that those who did such things didn’t live up to the teachings of Christ or the Church… but such beliefs paled to the stories of those victims whose lives were ruined by the abuse they received. One wondered if the Church would ever have a voice in America again.

After a decade of repentance, penance, and changes in both personal and policy, the American Church is once again earning the right to be heard. With new faces in the episcopate such as Cardinal Dolan of New York, the United States Council of Catholic Bishops is once again picking up the shepherd’s staff to proclaim the truth and protect the faithful.

Reciently, the USCCB published a document titled, “Our First, Most Cherished Liberty” about religious freedom in the United States. It’s a powerful statement and I’d encourage everyone to take a look at it. It speaks against the HHS mandate in the strongest language possible. As Vincent Phillip Muñoz from the Weekly Standard wrote:

“The bishops call on Catholics in America, ‘in solidarity with our fellow citizens,’ not to obey the law. They implicitly compare the HHS regulation to a segregation-era statute, and even cite Martin Luther King Jr.’s ‘Letter from a Birmingham Jail.’ In a not-so-subtle manner, the bishops tell the Obama administration that they are willing to go to prison rather than comply with the mandate’s provisions.”

But the document is not just about the HHS Mandate. It shows that this is just the latest in a pattern of attacks on religious liberty in America, citing issues from immigration, adoption services (for Christian agencies who won’t place a child with a homosexual couple,) and discrimination against small church congregations and students on college campuses.

The examples aren’t just about Catholics because the Bishops want to speak to a larger issue than just theological distinctives within the Church. They write, “This is not a Catholic issue. This is not a Jewish issue. This is not an Orthodox, Mormon, or Muslim issue. It is an American issue.” And then the document highlights how religious freedom is at the heart of our constitution and our history.

Simply put, this document is a line in the sand. The USCCB has said “enough!” and is calling all people of faith to stand with them and fight these unjust laws. It is clear they’ll do whatever it takes to make it happen.

How can we join them?

1) Pray. They specifically suggest that the fourteen days from June 21st to July 4th be a time of intense prayer for all people of faith.

2) Talk about it. Many Catholics don’t like mixing Church and politics, thinking it goes against our country’s “separation of church and state.” But ironically, this is exactly what we want! We don’t want the state telling the Church what to do, what to believe, who to employ, or how to live out her mission. Post things on your Facebook wall, write blogs (I’ll keep writing about this!), tweet… use all the advantages of social media to let others know the truth of what is going on.

3) Write your senator and congressman/woman. Yes, it sounds cliche, but it needs to happen—especially as we come to an election year. Let those who represent you know how strongly you feel. Send emails, attend rallies, write letters, and vote in a way that will protect religious liberty in America.

I’m proud of our American bishops for taking such a stand. Let us pray they will stay strong in the face of adversity and that God would use this to unite people of faith everywhere so that we may truly be “one nation under God.”