What an incredible gift is the penitential season of Lent. By embracing the small and not so small sufferings we endure we unite ourselves with Christ in His Passion. We have the strength to do so because we know that Our Lord will not abandon His faithful. We know that He can transform any suffering offered in solidarity with Him for our benefit and the benefit of the world.
Our world is in such need of His mercy, and there is no shortage of suffering. This last week I was blessed to join other panelists at a special event at the United Nations, one that highlighted the evil of human trafficking. The event, organized by our friends at C-Fam, featured several speakers, some of whom were victims of this still-prevalent modern slavery. Their stories are heartrending. And when you look at the statistics—an estimated 21 million victims worldwide, including two million children, and 1.5 million victims here in the United States alone—you can hardly bear to think of the scale of this evil.
This, alongside the killing of approximately 13 million in the womb every year around the world, and more than one billion victims of surgical abortion in the last century. It can be debilitating to contemplate. What sense would any of it make if there were not the opportunity for redemption—for any perpetrator to return to God in humility and repentance, for evils that seem to go unpunished in this world, to be dealt with by a Judge who is not subject to our limits?
To grasp the bigger and eternal picture is to recognize our own small sacrifices for what they are—the least we can do.
This is why the Church’s role in this world is so fundamentally different from any other mere organization or institution. She was instituted by Christ Himself, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against her. Our hope comes from this knowledge, from the knowledge that God remains with us and has placed us here at this time so we can give Him honor and glory. This is why we speak up for those who can’t speak for themselves — the modern day anawim. This is why we serve in solidarity with those at the margins, those who suffer from debilitating poverty. This is how we engage with love (caritas), as Pope Benedict reminded us in Deus Caritas est, one of the three responsibilities of the Church:
… proclaiming the word of God (kerygma-martyria), celebrating the sacraments (leitourgia), and exercising the ministry of charity (diakonia). These duties presuppose each other and are inseparable. For the Church, charity is not a kind of welfare activity which could equally well be left to others, but is a part of her nature, an indispensable expression of her very being.
You remove any one of these elements of the Church and the others suffer. The Catholic who engages in the work of charity cannot do so without partaking in the sacraments and being ready to proclaim the Gospel in season and out season, or the charity itself becomes misshapen. Similarly, the one who immerses himself in the Word of God and sacraments but acts with no charity toward others distorts the Gospel and the Church in the eyes of the world, which is unjust in addition to being uncharitable.
So the Church has to be what she is, with love and without fear or compromise. The more we compromise, the more we distort what the Church is, and risk scandal and discouraging the faithful.
We have heard a great deal this week about the recently concluded “Biological Extinction” conference hosted by the Pontifical Academy of the Sciences. We have also talked about the harm done to souls by giving the impression of moral standing to men who have advocated for coercive population control, including praising China’s one-child (now “two child”) program of forced abortion and sterilization. Now that the conference has concluded we can survey the wreckage. Paul Ehrlich, the proponent of forced abortion and other crimes against human dignity and a famously discredited scientist, has written about his pleasure with how the conference went, declaring that he found all but one of the talks “excellent” and that “all agreed” that birth control is a moral imperative if the world is to avoid the worst effects of this already-underway “sixth biological extinction” of the earth. Remember that this is the man who, in a recent interview with The Guardian, suggested that reducing the population of the world to one billion people would have an “overall pro-life effect.”
The chancellor of the pontifical academy that welcomed Ehrlich and other population controllers (and no identifiably pro-life scholars) actually said during one session in which birth and population control were being favorably discussed that “we don’t know” what the Church’s teachings are on “fecundity.” Apparently His Excellency is unfamiliar with Casti Connubi, Humanae Vitae, Evangelium Vitae, and the dozens of other magisterial and non-magisterial papal statements, yet he is charged with making sure the Church’s position is registered in a discussion on human life, birth and population control.
He also may have missed Pope Francis’s recent statement: “For vocations, there is also another problem, the problem of the birthrate. If there are no young men there can be no priests.” The dangers of seeing people only in terms of their consumption rather than their unique gifts and personhood are only multiplied when clergy buy into secularist thinking.
The call for more access to contraception and a reduction of family size also came from John Bongaarrts, vice president of the Population Council, a destructive organization that strongly advocates for population reduction and control. Without shame and emboldened by his invitation to participate in the Vatican sponsored event, he went on to distort the Church’s understanding of “responsible parenthood” — a term used by Blessed Paul VI in Humana Vitae. Scandalously, the bishop chancellor not only failed to stand up for the marginalized around the world who are seen as a threat by Bongaarts and company, he affirmed that all should move away from large families to having two children — for the purpose of “sustainability.”
Is it scandalous to report on such abominations emerging from an event at the Vatican? I would be pleased to stand down and repeat the sorely needed correction from the Vatican if it came, yet secular papers are now reporting around the world that the Church has changed her position on birth control, as she is praised by people who apparently feel no need to step back from their own calls for coercive population control. Those who have asked for clarification are portrayed as a fringe element of the Church, even if they only quote previous popes.
I understand that many in the pro-life and pro-family movement are discouraged by what we see and hear from those responsible for upholding Church teaching. Sadly, overt public dissent and ambiguity from some in the Church hierarchy has caused scandal and confusion. People are looking for leadership and clarity in a world that is hostile to everything authentically Catholic, and now feel like they can’t look to the Church the arbiter of Truth for direction and defense. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard these concerns in my journeys.
But do not give up hope. Truth has not changed. There are many strong bishops, priests, and lay leaders who are holding the line. There are many faithful who see the signs of the times in this centenary year of Fatima and who know that all is not lost, that God wins, and that each of us has a role. That role is penitence, prayer, and almsgiving—exactly those essential Christian tasks that are demanded in a special way here in Lent.
Where sin abounds grace abounds all the more, as we know. Find the good and focus on it. Offer up your sacrifices in love and trust for the Church, for the Holy Father, and those priests and bishops who have faithfully cared for you and so many others. When it seems like the Church doesn’t want to be what she was made to be, you take up the mantle, or better yet the Cross, and help Our Lord in whatever little or big way you can. Pray and be present however you can in the fight for life, family, and human dignity, supporting those who fight human trafficking and every other attack on life. And don’t be afraid or despair.