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Living the gospel of life

In this week’s interview, communication manager David Hazen speaks with Archbishop George J. Lucas and Whitney Bradley, coordinator of the archdiocese’s Respect Life Apostolate, about the work of the apostolate and the importance of living mercy through one’s witnessing for life.

Q: Whitney, could you tell us about your role in the archdiocese?

Whitney Bradley: I am the coordinator of the Respect Life Apostolate, which is under the Family Life office of the archdiocese. I have a few different roles; I coordinate some large events, such as our annual trip to the March for Life in Washington, D.C., but I spend a lot of my time with lay leaders in parishes and their pro-life teams. I assist them in the work that they’re doing to promote respect for life in their communities and with making their groups more effective in that work.

Archbishop: The Respect Life Apostolate and the work that we do to respect the dignity of human life is right at the heart of our Catholic understanding of God’s plan for the human family. We are aware of many threats to human dignity, but the important thing is to start with God and his loving plan reflected in a particular and unique way in each person created in his image. I am really grateful to Whitney and those who work with her throughout the archdiocese to make sure that we keep our attention focused on this important aspect of our faith and of our discipleship.

 

Q: What role do you think parish pro-life groups should play in their communities?

Whitney Bradley: It looks different everywhere. For example, there is a Sidewalk Advocates for Life group, including members of St. Matthew Parish in Bellevue, that come together for regular meetings, but they spend most of their time on the sidewalks outside of the abortion clinic praying and advocating for the women. Another parish is starting a group dedicated to providing help to single, expectant mothers. The spectrum of work is large.

Archbishop: I think that parish groups can assist their fellow parishioners in seeing how the church’s respect life message can be integrated into the life of their family, their neighborhood, their relationships in the parish. There are very few families in our archdiocese who won’t face some challenging life questions sooner or later.

It may have to do with an unplanned or difficult pregnancy. It may have to do with someone who’s critically ill, and the questions about medical treatment that would be in harmony with the Gospel. One of the things that we’re able to do as parishioners and neighbors is to see to it that nobody is isolated – not the mother with a challenging pregnancy, or someone in a sick bed – and be ready in the name of Jesus to support them with our prayers, meals, company or encouragement.

I am afraid sometimes we look at our pro-life activity in terms of programs, or we think the lack of respect for life is such a huge problem in our country that we can’t have much of an effect. But that is not the case.

If we as Catholics are known for mercy, then I would like to think those around us who are struggling with an issue or a temptation against the dignity of human life would know that they can turn to us, and they would be received mercifully. The fact that they were struggling wouldn’t be a source of condemnation on our part, because they have choices and temptations in front of them. Anybody who faces those things alone is liable to do something rash, and something that will be harmful, either to themselves or someone else, and that would cause much regret later on.

Whitney Bradley: Absolutely. We realize in the pro-life movement we can often be focused on programs, but we are trying to focus instead on being disciples who live mercy. We ask the question, “How do I leverage the influence I have with other people, so that when they find themselves in that difficult position, they’ll come to me, their neighbor?” And we are trying to switch our emphasis from doing more work to being with more people, building more relationships, or drawing others in.

We hear stories all the time of women who have had phone numbers for help with the grief after going through an abortion, and they never call. That’s because the call is really scary. You don’t know who is on the line. You don’t know how they are going to receive you. You’re living in a culture that tells you that you are not even allowed to have this grief. If you know someone who is in that situation, don’t just say, “Here’s a number that can help you.” Sit down with them and say, “Can I call this number with you, or for you? Can I make that connection for you, because I’m not Jesus, and I’m not a therapist, but I sure am your friend.”

I think that’s just where it starts. We’re a part of this body together.

 

Q: How do you help people begin to give effective witness to human dignity?

Whitney Bradley: We have some pro-life people that are doing some really incredible things, but before they could reach that point, they had to pause and come together as a community and say, “First I need to recognize my own worth so that I can share that with others.”

How do I recognize my own worth? It’s through the people in the body of Christ who have loved me – it’s knowing Jesus, knowing his heart for me. One of the things that we ask all of our parish teams to do, even if they’re only meeting for an hour, is to spend 10 to 15 minutes in prayer together. We ask that it be an intentional prayer, so that they can spend time sharing with one another what they’ve received.

 

Q: So, to sum up, the church’s witness in this arena must transcend simple activism.

Archbishop: There is a place for activity, particularly in terms of trying to shape public policy and create structures in the community that speak to the truth of the dignity of human life. What Whitney is saying is really very consistent with the vision that St. John Paul II had when he wrote the beautiful encyclical “Evangelium Vitae.” He put our pro-life views and efforts and work in that context of evangelization.

We know that evangelization is very personal. We are introducing people to Jesus, not just telling people things or preaching a set of abstract truths. We know that originally the Gospel was shared person-to-person, and that the person who was sharing the light and the joy of the Gospel of Jesus Christ was able to have an influence for good on the person near him or her.

We want to focus our efforts in that way on behalf of the gospel of life in this archdiocese; we do not just want to offer someone a solution for his or her problem, but we want to extend ourselves and offer a relationship.

Whitney Bradley: Right. It’s not a solution we’re offering, it’s a person: Jesus, and ourselves.

Archbishop: Because the Lord has called us, we are baptized, we are alive in him, we are members of the body of Christ. We are able to bring him to others, and he promises that we’ll see him in others. If we are in a relationship with someone who is struggling with a life question, or the grief from having made a bad decision earlier on, we believe that there can be an exchange of gifts there, and we too can have a deepening sense of the presence of Jesus in those moments.

What we know for sure is that Jesus is not afraid of that situation. When Jesus looks at you or me, or at someone who has made a decision against the gift of human life, all he wants for us and for that person is that we be free, that we be forgiven, that we experience his mercy.

That gives us the joy and great confidence to be with others who do not share our views, or who are struggling with something, because we know how much Jesus loves that person. We can be with them patiently and respectfully.

Whitney Bradley: Right, and that makes bridging the divide between people so much easier. It’s no longer us against them, it is just us. We may disagree, but we know we have the truth and love of Jesus on our side. We get to offer that to them.

Archbishop: It is a privilege that is given to us in our time. It seems ironic and backward. Perhaps we would rather be living in a time when there was no abortion, no violent attacks on the human person, no attempts at euthanasia or any such thing, but I’m not sure there has ever been such a time. It hasn’t always been legal to do some of those things, but sadly, because of the effects of sin and the power of temptation, any of us are liable to act in fear or shame, and especially if we’re isolated and no one is supporting us.

The fact that some of these ills are so rampant in our culture means that we have a gift to bring to our brothers and sisters that is not being offered by many others.

As you said, we have the truth. That is God’s gift to us – not as a point of pride, but as a source of strength and love with which we can approach others.