‘Love the person in front of you’

Pro-life conference studies how to live the Gospel of Life in a world that may not listen

CHAMPION — “When you do pro-life work, you are doing prophetic work. And it’s out of love, not out of condemnation. It’s about saving life and saving souls.”

Bishop David Ricken gave this advice in his homily at the annual Diocesan Respect Life Mass, celebrated Saturday, Jan. 23, at the National Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help in Champion.

The bishop explained “the prophetic voice” as one “pointing out the truth, to call people to conversion.” To do that, he recommended doing acts “of loving kindness, a corporal gift of mercy.” When we do that “we’re lifting the veil a little more to show the kingdom of God,” the bishop told both the congregation of 100 to 125 gathered in the Mother of Mercy Hall, and another 60 to 70 who joined by livestream and on Facebook.

Participants at the Jan. 23 Disciples for Life Conference listen to questions posed by young adults. (Sam Lucero | The Compass)

The Mass was the conclusion of the “Disciples for Life Pro-Life Event — Living the Gospel of Life,” held that afternoon at the shrine and virtually. The keynote speaker was Sr. Magnificat Rose, a member of the Sisters of Life, who joined virtually from St. Malachi Convent in Philadelphia.

The Sisters of Life were founded in 1991 in New York City by the late Cardinal John O’Connor, a leader in the national pro-life movement. Today, there are more than 100 sisters in the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, Spain and the Philippines.

Sr. Magnificat offered three basic messages in her presentation, starting with this overview point: If you want to be pro-life, you must see God’s love and the presence of Jesus, ‘God With Us,” in all people and all things.

“The reality of the Incarnation changes everything,” she said.

A GIFT: Sr. Magnificat’s first message was that “life is a gift.”

“There is a desire in every human heart to be chosen, to be looked upon with love, to be important to someone else,” she told her audience. “God did not put this desire there to remain unfulfilled. … God chose you. God chose and loved you into existence. …. He said, ‘Let there be you!’”

She advised people to try to imagine the first moment of their existence, when God created them and looked at them with love. “This is a love we do not have to earn,” Sr. Magnificat said. “It is freely given. Our role is to receive the gift of our own life.”

ALWAYS A MEANING: When we can start to live in this truth, she continued, we learn a second truth: “Life always has meaning.” To emphasize this, she showed the medal that all Sisters of Life wear with its engraved words: “And nothing would again be casual and small.” The words come from “A Poem for the Annunciation: I Sing of a Maiden” by Redemptorist Fr. John Duffy.

Our society, Sr. Magnificat said, tries to make us value people based on what they do or how much they have. But looking to Mary’s life shows a different picture.

“When we welcome Christ into our life, everything changes,” Sr. Magnificat said.

To help do that, she recommended developing an attitude of daily gratitude and surrender. Each of these “enhances our vision. It trains our eyes to see the good, to see God’s providence,” she said.

FALL IN LOVE: Finally, Sr. Magnificat advised people to fall in love with God and with everyone else whom God has created. “Fall in love. Stay in love and it will transform everything,” she said.

“We can change the culture one person at a time,” she added. “A smile, an act of generosity. It is a matter of seeing Jesus in every person.”

Bishop David Ricken addresses more than 100 people in attendance at the Disciples for Life Conference Jan. 23 at the National Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help. Other guests tuned in to the conference by livestream. (Sam Lucero | The Compass)

During a time for questions, one question came up that was later repeated in a town hall meeting with Bishop Ricken: How to share the Gospel of Life in a culture with “a very different world view.”

Sr. Maeve Navitas, who had joined Sr. Magnificat, advised “trying to maintain a peaceful heart and to receive (people who disagree with you). … Finding points that are common ground. … Trying to come to a place of mutual understanding, which is not mutual agreement, but to break down the tensions. … Come to a place of really loving each other, the place to start is seeing their own dignity.”

The direction to value each other, both those inside and outside the pro-life movement, came up during the town hall meeting with Bishop Ricken and young adults. These included nine designated young people from Catholic schools and parishes around the diocese who were chosen to present five topics of questions.

One concern, voiced in different ways, was highlighted by Allison Harikkala, a junior at Xavier High School in Appleton. She noted that, as she tried to restart the pro-life group at her school, she found that the opinions of young people can be “ignored or considered invalid due to lack of knowledge and experience.”

After advising pro-life young people to grow in their friendship with Jesus and to support each other in small discipleship groups, the bishop told Harikkala that, “If people are disrespecting you and your voice, that’s a good sign. It could be a sign that you are stretching them a bit. … Inspire them to know they are loved.”

“Don’t judge people,” he added, echoing Sr. Magnificat, “but lovingly lead them into the truth.… If you slam people with judgment, they are going to turn you off and walk away.”

Another question came from Anna DeMeuse of Green Bay, who is communications director for Pro-life Wisconsin. She asked how to bring the pro-life message to unmarried pregnant women “who hesitate to turn to the church out of fear of judgment” due to its teachings on sexual life.

In answering, the bishop noted that it is “really important not to judge people, especially in the whirlwind of an unplanned pregnancy.”

Instead of telling them what the church teaches about the theology of the body at that moment, Bishop Ricken advised giving women what they need right then: “Let them know they are loved and that we are walking with them.”

“I am on the (U.S.) bishops’ committee for pro-life,” he added, “… and sometimes I think our language gets in the way.”

He specifically wondered if, at times, it would be “more effective to say, ‘Every child has a right to be born. Every child has a right to live. Every citizen of the United States has a right to be born; Every citizen of the United States has a right to live.’”

He said that the right words for today need to be found by younger people who support pro-life: “Listen to your generation and use their language,” Bishop Ricken said. … “That’s work you have to do. I don’t know your language in the way you do.”

Bishop David Ricken listens to a question posed by a young adult during a listening session at the Jan. 23 Disciples for Life Conference. (Sam Lucero | The Compass)

Finally, the bishop recommended that everyone pray to the Holy Innocents, not just the infants mentioned in Matthew’s Gospel, but “the 62 million” aborted in the past 48 years since the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision.

“Prayer to the Holy Innocents,” the bishop said. “During that prayer, you could feel things shifting in a dark place. … You could feel things starting to move. …  I’ve seen it myself.”

The Disciples of Life event was coordinated by the diocesan offices of Pro-Life and Living Justice. The Knights of Malta at the National Shrine also assisted in the day’s events. The entire conference, which included a rosary, was recorded and can be viewed at this link.

To view additional photos from the event, visit our Flickr album.