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Bl. Franz Jäggerstätter and a Third Party Vote

The issue of protecting the life of unborn children in the womb has been the central issue for American Catholics for almost half a century. Furthermore, many Catholics think they have an obligation to vote for the pro-life candidate who has the greatest chance of winning. But at what point does a candidate who promotes pro-life legislation go too far in many the other areas of Catholic social teaching? Do Catholics have an obligation to vote for someone who leads the government into other grave violations of human dignity, just because he or she is opposed to abortion?

With many other Catholics, I have concluded that voting for the anti-abortion candidate who is most likely to win does not fit with our duty as Catholics to uphold all the truths taught by the Catholic Church when that candidate’s other views conflict with other important life issues. In this position, I see myself following the example of Bl. Franz Jägerstätter who was pressured by fellow Catholics including priests and bishops to support the Nazi Socialist Party in Austria in the 1930s and 40s. They told him that he had to do it for the Fatherland—but he felt that he could not participate in the evils promoted and actually committed by the Nazi Socialist Party.

I am not saying that our political parties are as evil as the Nazis, yet. But they support many elements in American society that degrade the dignity of the human person. Since a government has a moral duty to protect and respect the dignity of all humans in its realm and not violate the dignity of noncitizens, all of these things must be taken into consideration by Catholics

The USCCB presents these important considerations in their rereleased document, Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship. In this document, the bishops apply the tradition of Catholic social teaching to issues we are facing in the United States today. While they emphasize ending the evil of abortion as the preeminent “priority because it directly attacks life itself,” they also bring attention to “other serious threats to human life and dignity such as racism, the environmental crisis, poverty and the death penalty,” and to issues like the inhuman treatment and lack of due process for families coming to our borders in crisis, gun violence, health care reform, and attacks on the essential nature of the human person as male and female.

When the only anti-abortion/pro-life candidate who is likely to win stands for and promotes a large number of issues that violate human dignity, Catholics face a difficult decision. After we have formed our conscience in the fullness of truth, reasoned about the weight of the importance of various issues, and have found that the two major-party candidates and platforms do not promote enough of the fullness of truth about human dignity, we have to make some decision.

I contend that it is morally permissible, or even recommended, for Catholics either to vote for a third-party candidate* who is both pro-life regarding abortion and has stances consistent with many other aspects of moral truth or to turn in a blank ballot. When there is not a candidate worth voting for, then it is best to not vote for any. This is so even if a major-party candidate supports Catholic social teaching on some issues, like abortion, and stands a good chance of winning the election.

St. Thomas Aquinas explains in the Summa Theologiae that it is wrong to not follow one’s conscience, but also that one has an obligation to form one’s conscience (I-II, Q. 19, Art. 5-6). He explains that we are responsible if we do not fully form our consciences in accord with the fullness of truth. The Church gives us examples of this sort of political act in some of her saints. The drive to not compromise the fullness of moral truth for the sake of worldly success is the same drive that led Bl. Franz Jäggerstätter and similarly St. Thomas More and to stand against the unjust governments of their respective times and ultimately give up their lives. For them it was the love of truth and desire to do what was right that led them to make their stand.

St. Thomas More was an influential government leader who refused to support King Henry VIII in separating the Church of England from the Roman Catholic Church. Bl. Franz Jägerstätter in his position against his government was a simple Austrian peasant as he courageously refused to take the oath to support Adolf Hitler and serve under the National Socialists in the military.

Both men knew that they faced hopeless cases politically. They both knew that they would forfeit their lives if they did not agree to support an evil leader of a government. Nearly all the other Catholics that both men knew chose to go along with the evil done by the government. Both men knew their choice to stand against it would not stop the leader from making evil choices. But both had to follow their consciences. They both supported a hopeless cause, but they chose to support the truth anyway.

In his personal notebooks, Bl. Franz described German-speaking Catholics as people engulfed in a stream they would have to struggle to escape, that stream being the National Socialist party, which Pope Pius XI had spoken out against. The German Church supported that party’s rule out of fear of losing its liberties. But Bl. Franz asked in his writings, “Have church officials reached the decision that it is now permissible for Catholics to belong to a party that opposes the church?” (Franz Jägerstätter: Letters and Writings from Prison, Notebook II, p. 174) Catholics today run the risk of being engulfed in the stream of either major political party. But it is our moral duty to examine each party and discern if either is worth supporting.

Now, unlike in the cases of St. Thomas More and Bl. Franz, the way that a Catholic chooses to vote in an election in the United States is not a matter of physical life and death for him or her. But it is clear that the major parties do not promote respect for the human dignity of all persons: the unborn, the poor, the worker, the elderly, families, the oppressed, etc. It is also clear that how we vote is a moral act, and that like any moral act, it affects the life of our souls. Like Bl. Franz and St. Thomas More, we have to make political choices that aim at protecting the truths of the Church and the moral truth that all humans have dignity and deserve to be treated as such.

As in the cases of St. Thomas More and Bl. Franz, it is worth aiming at these goals with our votes, regardless of whether our choice stands any reasonable chance of success. It may be that turning in a blank ballot or voting for a third-party candidate aims at these goals better than voting for a major party candidate. Each Catholic must weigh all of the relevant information in their consciences, and the right choice in not always clear. But turning in a blank ballot or voting for a third party send will send a message about the Catholic vote: that we must protect the unborn and all vulnerable people and that our two major parties are not doing enough. Just as in the acts of St. Thomas More and Bl. Franz, this is worth saying, even if it has no immediately apparent effect.

*One third party many faithful Catholics are supporting is the American Solidarity Party, which has based its platform on the successful Christian Democrat parties in Europe and Catholic Social Teaching.

The Seven Sorrows of Miscarriage

The van pulled up to the cemetery that sunny late summer day, parking next to the familiar path to the tombstone for babies lost to miscarriage. The kids piled out of the car, one of them leading their grandparents to the gravesite. The kids asked where our babies were buried, and I showed them the grassy spots on the ground. And then I found the new engraving on the tombstone, one we had not yet seen: “Spencer Babies 2014, 2017.”

Those two had a Christian burial thanks to the mercy of God and the rites of the Church. Our first baby was too small when he passed to collect any remains.

Oct. 15 is National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day, a day the Senate brought into existence in 2006 as a day to honor the lives of babies who died in miscarriage, stillbirth and other causes.

For me this whole month is a time I remember the brief lives of my three children who died in the first trimester of pregnancy. I was thinking about the particulars last week, and while it has been three years since our last loss, the pain is so vivid when I enter into those memories. And I realized that entering into the memories is like praying with the Seven Sorrows of Mary. There seems to be an accompanying Seven Sorrows of Miscarriage.

Read the rest at the National Catholic Register.

What Pope St. John Paul II Said About ‘Structures of Sin’

In the pastoral letter Open Wide Our Hearts, the USCCB reviews the history of the oppression of people based on ethnicity and race in America, and states quite clearly: “The roots of racism have extended deeply into the soil of our society.”

We, as conservative Christians who believe in the dignity of all human persons, should openly acknowledge the problem of racism in our nation and stand against it. We should see the injustice of a person holding his or her race or ethnicity as superior to others’, the sinfulness of individuals and groups acting on these views, and how these views have influenced our laws and the way our society functions.

We as Catholics should be at the front lines of the fight to end racism, instead of ceding the front lines to people who have been influenced more by various ideologies than by the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Let’s use the language that the Church already has to talk about sins like racism. We already have teachings on how we have a responsibility to bring about an end to it.

The Church in her tradition and in the Catechism talks about “structures of sin” and “social sin.” The Catechism (1869) states: “Sins give rise to social situations and institutions that are contrary to the divine goodness. ‘Structures of sin’ are the expression and effect of personal sins. They lead their victims to do evil in their turn. In an analogous sense, they constitute a ‘social sin.’”

Pope St. John Paul II, in his apostolic exhortation, Reconciliatio et Paenitentia, defines social sin — or “structures of sin” as he calls it in the encyclical Sollicitudo Rei Socialis — in several ways.

Read the rest at the National Catholic Register.

Chronic Illness Teaches Us How to Suffer During COVID-19

“I think you have Lyme disease,” my practitioner stated sympathetically. I glanced into her serious face and was in denial.

No. It could not be. But as I went over each possible symptom on the evaluation form, the number I experienced began to add up. What I first thought was an ankle sprain was instead a symptom of a horrible chronic illness. My ability to live normally and independently had disappeared as the bacteria wreaked havoc within my body. I could barely have my feet at an elevation below my heart without intense pain and thus could do nothing for myself but what can be done lying in bed. And now the diagnosis meant that I was in it for the long haul. The only way out of the illness caused by a bite from a tiny little deer tick was to follow the careful directions of treatment until the symptoms were gone.

My initial feelings when first diagnosed with Lyme disease and those I had at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic where quite similar. First, Lyme was something other people got; it would never happen to me. COVID was all the way in Asia; there was no way it would spread to us. Then I did contract Lyme disease, and I had to live on with the reality of a long recovery, if any. COVID did make it to the United States, and most states responded with restrictions meant to curb this new, unpredictable and sometimes deadly illness.

Lyme disease and all chronic illnesses with their open-ended diagnosis are similar to the COVID-19 situation we are facing as a world. We hope to get to the end of this irregular experience and return to some sense of normalcy, but we do not know when or how it will eventually happen. But they can also be similar in how we bear with the suffering resulting from the situation.

Read the rest at the National Catholic Register…

The Holy Lives and Passions of Sts. Louis and Zélie Martin

(This essay is shortened from a talk.)

They passed each other on a bridge one spring day — a distinguished, reserved, hardworking watchmaker who had tried and failed to become a monk and a lovely, intelligent, productive lacemaker who had been turned away by the Vincentian sisters. When St. Zélie first laid eyes on St. Louis she heard an interior voice, one that she had learned to trust, say, This is he whom I have prepared for you.

Their life together began on July 12, 1858 — a date remembered by the Church as the feast day of the first husband and wife canonized as a couple. While their married life was holy and admirable, God gave them the opportunity to enter into the suffering of the Cross at the end of each of their lives.

In their 19 happy years of marriage, Sts. Louis and Zélie ran a successful lacemaking business in Alençon, Louis having given up his trade to help his wife in hers. They had nine children, all of whom they baptized within days of their birth. When they lost four of their children, to childhood illnesses and the negligence of wet-nurses, since Zèlie was not able to breastfeed her children, they placed their hope in seeing them again in Heaven.

Louis and Zélie were very careful to raise their surviving children with virtuous habits, correcting their faults sternly, but also rewarding their good deeds with affectionate love. Zélie would pray about and examine the faults and strengths of each child and foster them into holiness and encouraged them to make little sacrifices every day to help them become less selfish.

Read the rest at the National Catholic Register…

Blessed Franz Jägerstätter and the Simple Life of Sanctity

I was sitting at the lunch table over my daily salad while my husband prepped his grilled cheese at the stove. The children chatted with each other across the table from me.

“I’ve been thinking about Bl. Franz Jägerstätter again,” I said to him between bites. Bl. Franz had been a regular topic of conversation since we had finally seen the movie A Hidden Life, which tells the story of his martyrdom. After watching the movie, I spent several weeks reading a biography of the blessed, In Solitary Witness: The Life and Death of Franz Jägerstätter by Gordon C. Zahn, and my husband and I had had many conversations about his actions.

I continued, “When his diocese acknowledged his sanctity 20 years after his martyrdom they said that his sacrifice was a beyond the ordinary call of a Christian. But it seems to me that the ordinary call of a Christian is, in fact, to extraordinary sanctity.”

Bl. Franz was an Austrian who was martyred by the Nazis in 1943 for refusing to take the military oath in support of Hitler. He was a peasant farmer in St. Radegund, a small town in the mountains. Despite his humble state in life he received an extraordinary grace to see the unjustness of the Nationalist Socialist Party and stand firm in his conviction even in the face of death. He gave up his beautiful, happy family life with his wife and children for the sake of following his conscience.

I explained my thoughts to my husband further, telling him how Bl. Franz believed that he had received a special grace to see the unjustness of the Nazi party, a grace that others avoided. In some of his last writings, which can be found in a volume edited by Erna Putz, Bl. Franz explained this grace:

“If God had not bestowed on me the grace and power to die for my faith — if this is demanded of me — then I would be doing the same as the majority of the people are doing. God can give someone as much grace as God wants. If other men and women had received as much grace as I have obtained, they would have perhaps done much more good than I have done.” (Franz Jägerstätter: Letters and Writings from Prison, “Text no. 88,” p. 224)

Read the rest at the National Catholic Register…

Who is My Neighbor?

A lawyer went up to Jesus one day. He wanted to test him. So he asked what one must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus directed this lawyer to the law, “What do you read there?”

The lawyer, a good student of the law, recited, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” With this, Jesus affirmed him saying, “Do this, and you will live.”

But the lawyer pushed further, asking the question that we all have in our hearts: “And who is my neighbor?”

Jesus looked at him with love. He looked him right in the eye and he told the story of the Good Samaritan.

This past week as I questioned the Lord in prayer about how to respond to the unrest in our nation, in my own Twin Cities. I too am a student of the law, the moral law. Jesus told me the same story. But instead of Jews and Samaritans, the characters were more familiar.

Even after slavery ended in the United States, after a gruesome war, black people were still treated as half-citizens, or worse. Yet many who saw them passed them by. Others did even worse. They lynched them and left them dead. They used unjust laws and practices to keep them in segregated neighborhoods, bound up in poverty and systematic prejudice.

More than 50 years ago, African Americans fought for more liberties despite continued resistance, aggression and even more violence. Some strides were made for equality, but not enough. Some laws changed, but not enough hearts and minds did.

Read the rest at the National Catholic Register…

Our Children Need Us to Help them Grow in Virtue

If you have read The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis, you will remember Eustace Clarence Scrubb, the ill-tempered cousin of the four children of The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, who makes his first appearance in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. He was the one who deserved the name his parents had given him. C.S. Lewis uses him as an example of how children turn out if their parents do not use discipline and essentially spoil their child.

Yet, Eustace takes a turn for the best when he is accidentally transformed into a dragon on an island in Narnia. Before he can become human again he learns the lesson that it is better to be a giving, thankful, loving person than a self-absorbed, whiney, unkind person. He learns from the example of his shipmates, especially his cousin Lucy, and from trying it out himself. We meet him again in the book The Silver Chair where his classmates are annoyed that he does not join in their bullying antics — antics that the school downright promotes.

Lewis makes it clear in the book that the school children’s vicious behavior is the result of no one taking the trouble to form them in good behavior.

Read the rest at the National Catholic Register…

6 Ideas for Improving Distance Learning and Homeschooling

“Parents have the first responsibility for the education of their children. They bear witness to this responsibility first by creating a home where tenderness, forgiveness, respect, fidelity, and disinterested service are the rule.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2223)

With the closing of in-person schools due to the coronavirus outbreak, families with children enrolled in traditional schools have suddenly found themselves responsible for the daily schooling of their children. Several of my friends in this situation have reached out to me with questions about how I run my homeschooling day. It is difficult when what we have discerned as the right thing for our family is turned upside down and we are faced with challenges we never planned on facing.

So, for parents who feel like they are drowning in distance learning home school style, I want to offer some help. You can do this!

Just think of Ma (Caroline) Ingalls in her isolated homes in the territories of Minnesota and Dakota over long, long winters helping her children learn while running her whole household without electricity or indoor plumbing. You can do this!

Read some ideas to make your days at home more peaceful and manageable at the National Catholic Register…

Getting Ready for Advent

We have two November birthdays in our house, plus Thanksgiving, which this year we are traveling for (hopefully, ahead of the forecasted blizzard for Tuesday night). Advent will be upon us by the time we get home!

Our family always reads from the Bible about the story of salvation history during Advent and puts an ornament for each reading on our Jesse Tree. And we love to light the candles on our Advent wreath. My goal for Advent is to enter in the busy season prayerfully and cheerfully. So, for myself I always pray with the Blessed is She Advent devotional.

I would like to invite you to join me this year in praying with the Blessed is She Advent+Christmas devotional. It goes through the story of the family of Christ, from Genesis to Jesus’ birth, to the birth of the Church. Each of us on the Blessed is She team wrote a reflection sharing our story and inviting you to enter into Advent and Christmas with your story, of your family, of your life as a daughter of God. You’ll find my story on Day 7 of Advent!! Today (Monday, Nov. 25) is the last day to order to get it before Advent starts! But since it goes through Christmastide, don’t worry if you order it a few days late!

The Blessed is She Marketplace is having some great sales this week!

bissales

So, click on over if you have been waiting for a sale to get the planner, our virtue book for kids, or any other product!

Have a blessed Thanksgiving week!

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