Wednesday, April 23, 2014

John Paul Hauser

Tracy and Tami Hauser prayed for a miracle – and it has come true.

John Paul Hauser, center in green, is
surrounded by his siblings in their
Omaha  home. John Paul, who has Trisomy 13,
wasn't expected to live past birth.
 Now 5, he's thriving, thanks to prayers
 from the community and
 the intercession of Blessed John Paul II.
About five years ago, the Omaha couple reached out to their community asking for prayers for their seventh child, John Paul, who was three-months-old at the time. He was born Oct. 9, 2008, with a rare chromosomal disorder called Trisomy 13, which doctors consider incompatible with life.

Despite the bleak diagnosis, the Hausers, prayed for their son’s healing through the intercession of the late Pope John Paul II, their son’s namesake.

I met the Hausers when they reached out to the Catholic Voice, the newspaper of the Archdiocese of Omaha, at which I was a writer at the time. They wanted to spread devotion to the late pope’s beatification and canonization prayer in hopes that he would intercede for them and grant them one of the three miracles needed for his canonization. They hoped 1,000 people would pray the beautification prayer daily with them. They distributed holy cards to their parish community at St. Margaret Mary, as well as neighbors, family and friends. They even dropped some off at the chancery.

In return, they received cards, letters and phone calls from people – some strangers – all over the country telling of prayers for their son, including one from Archbishop Emeritus Elden Francis Curtiss. They received a papal blessing from Pope Benedict XVI and a letter written on his behalf telling them of his prayers for their son.

Now five, John Paul is doing well, goes to preschool and is thriving, and although he hasn’t been healed of his disorder, the Hausers said they believe soon-to-be St. John Paul has interceded.

“We have prayed the canonization prayer for the past five and a half years as one of our prayers before bed every night,” Tami said. “We may have to change our prayers slightly, but our commitment and attachment to our family patron in heaven will not waiver.  We are grateful for John Paul ll's intercession and we think of him as an extended family member now.”

Most children born with Trisomy 13 die before birth and a few that survive usually don’t come home from the hospital, Tami said. Those who do come home have a 50 percent chance of dying within the first six months of life and 91 percent chance of dying within the first year, she said.

In his first few months of life, John Paul overcame two episodes where he stopped breathing and recovered on his own, and he has no external or internal malformations, she said. Many babies born with Trisomy 13, which occurs when extra DNA from chromosome 13 appears in some or all of the body’s cells, have multiple abnormalities.

His breathing improved and strengthened over time and he hit most developmental goals.
The couple found out about John Paul’s illness six months into the pregnancy. That’s when they chose to name him after the late pope.

“I really didn’t think we were going to bring him home so I thought, ‘Wouldn’t that be a good person to look out for him in heaven?’” Tami said.

Tami said John Paul’s life has strengthened her family’s faith and has brought great blessings.
There have been hard things, but those times have shaped the Hauser family and strengthened their faith, she said.

“The prayers and outpouring of love have allowed us to see the body of Christ in action, his hands and his feet at work in our lives,” she said. “We recognize as a family that our hearts have grown, and we ourselves have a greater capacity to love because of this experience.”

This experience, Tami said, has taught the Hausers to wake up every morning and be thankful for what God has given them, to trust in his divine mercy, and to pay forward what has been shown to us, by trying to love their neighbor as greatly as they have been loved.

John Paul today 
John Paul attends morning preschool five days a week. Next year he will be in kindergarten in an Adaptive Curriculum Placement room, and will try a full-day schedule similar to the rest of his classmates, Tami said. 

This summer he will go to summer school for four weeks, and for the first time will attend Munroe Meyer's special needs day camp, at which four of his siblings volunteer.
John Paul wears glasses, but it’s a blessing, Tami said, because most babies with Trisomy 13 are born blind.

In December, he had cataracts removed from his right eye and an eye implant put in, which significantly improved the vision in that eye, she said. John Paul now notices and reaches for things that didn't hold his interest before, she said. He also has a better reference to where the ground is, and his balance has improved, which is critical for standing and walking, Tami said.
He continues to make strides with the walker he uses for balance, and likes to run around in gym and on the playground with the other children, she said.

And John Paul wears hearing aids and has trouble talking, so he uses language cards and hand gestures to communicate.

“He also shakes his head "no", oftentimes when we are trying to feed him green vegetables,” Tami said.

Currently, the family is implementing a talking board as an assistive communication device for John Paul. It has four sections for pictures to select from. The ideal goal is that John Paul will be able to decipher from four different pictures to be used in school for reading, math and science, and also for communicating wants and needs, Tami said.

Celebrating the canonization
The Hausers plan to attend a pre-canonization party at the Pro Sanctity Center near Elkhorn the night before the canonization, and then a Divine Mercy service at St. Vincent de Paul Church in Omaha the day of the canonization. They’ll also eat Papal Cream Cake, which Tami said is rumored to have been John Paul ll's favorite dessert, and renew their consecration to Mary through prayer.

Looking back over the past events, Tami said her family alone couldn't possibly have pulled this all together. They prayed the Divine Mercy Chaplet throughout Tami’s pregnancy with John Paul, at the time asking God to be merciful and to help them through what they were being called to face, she said. 

“We had prayed the chaplet before, but didn't actually know that John Paul ll had a large role in instituting that and the celebration of Divine Mercy Sunday,” Tami said. “We named our child John Paul before he was born, and at the time didn't know about the beatification and canonization prayer. It seemed so fragmented at the time, but as later events unraveled, it is far too complicated to be situational. It has the fingerprint of God all over it.”

The Hauser family have been committed to studying the life of John Paul ll, and have learned that many church leaders believe that the reason he was such an effective pope that impacted the church and the world so profoundly was because he was a radically converted man who had an enormous capacity to love – and God could did great things with that love, she said. 

“Words cannot adequately express what our hearts feel, but we have been touched by the outpouring of love that people have shown our family,” Tami said. “Many of these people are total strangers, that loved so greatly that they prayed and are still praying for our son, a child they have never met.  We have seen firsthand what God can do when people love greatly.”

Tami said her family wants people to know they are truly grateful for the prayers, and believe they have all played a part in the hastening of John Paul ll's canonization, and also for his intercession on John Paul’s behalf. 

“Our John Paul is a happy boy who laughs often and brings joy to our entire family,” she said. “We want all of those people to know that we feel connected to them and we pray for them, too. We ask God to be with them, to bless them, and to help them with whatever their struggles are.”  


Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Easter Triduum


Tomorrow marks the start of the three most important liturgical days in the Catholic Church – the climax to the Lenten season and the springboard into the Easter season.

Often referred to as the Easter Triduum (Latin for “Three Days”), Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday celebrate the central mysteries of our faith – the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus. Celebrated as one continuous liturgy, the Triduum takes us through Jesus’ saving events and gives us a deeper understanding of our redemption from sin and death to eternal life, said Father Chris Barak, pastor of St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Seward.

“We look more closely with the special grace God gives us during these holy days at the effects of sin, and appreciate more and more the love God has for us that he would undergo terrible sufferings and death to save us from hell,” he said.

The Triduum begins at dusk on Holy Thursday with the Mass of the Lord’s Supper and continues with Good Friday, when we gather to remember the Lord’s Passion and Death, and Holy Saturday with the Easter Vigil Mass, the celebration of Jesus rising from the dead. It concludes with Evening Prayer on Easter Sunday.

At the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, we celebrate the institution of both the Eucharist. At the Last Supper, Jesus gave his followers his body, blood, soul and divinity, which renews the baptismal covenant bound between God and his people, Father Barak said. And the Eucharist expresses and enforces the unity between God and his people, he said.

Through the ceremony of the washing of the feet, which happens during Holy Thursday Mass, we reflect on Jesus’ call to serve others and to help people experience the love of God through our care and concern for others.

“With Jesus in them, the followers of the Lord are empowered to carry out the command of charity to wash the feet of others,” Father Barak said. “And Jesus initiates the sacrament of holy orders by ordaining the apostles as the first priests who will stand in his place and consecrate the Eucharist for future generations.”

After Holy Thursday Mass, we process with Jesus from the Upper Room to the Garden of Agony. Some people may spend time quietly with the Lord, comforting him in his agony to remain faithful through his sufferings to the Father’s will to redeem us, Father Barak said.

“This is a holy evening of gratitude to Jesus as we meditate on his arrest and his trial,” he said.

Good Friday is a special day when Mass is not celebrated. Throughout the day we meditate on Jesus dying and giving himself out of love to the Father, so the Father would forgive our sins and spare us from hell. During the celebration of the Passion of the Lord that evening, we read the Passion from John’s Gospel, venerate the cross, and receive the Eucharist.

On Holy Saturday we meditate on Jesus entering the dwelling of the dead to preach to all who had died before him, inviting them to choose to join him in heaven. That evening, the faithful gather for the Easter Vigil Mass during which the church welcomes new Catholics who have been preparing for months to receive the sacraments for the first time.

“The Easter Vigil helps us in the darkness of the night, symbolizing the darkness sin causes in our thinking, to focus on the Light of Jesus Christ the way to heaven, as symbolized in the flame of the Easter candle, which begins to dispel the darkness,” Father Barak said.

During the Mass, we hear the promises of a Messiah in the Old Testament readings, hear of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead to new life, and sing praises to God, he said.

“We renew our baptismal promises to reject Satan and to accept God the Holy Trinity and the Catholic Church,” Father Barak said. “And we conclude with the foretaste of heaven by partaking in the Eucharist, which is the wedding feast of the Lamb of God who laid down his life so that we might choose to live forever with him.”

Father Dan Andrews, pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in Norfolk, said the best way to participate in the Easter Triduum is to attend Holy Thursday Mass, Good Friday’s liturgy and the Easter Vigil Mass.

“We make time for what is important to us. What could be more important than the victory of perfect love over death?” he said.

The rites of the Triduum are powerful, Father Andrews said.

“All we have to do is show up and let them have their effect,” he said.

At home, Catholic families can enter into the Triduum by creating the right environment, he said. That could be turning off the television, minimizing or eliminating the use of electronics and observing the fast on Good Friday, he said.

Other suggestions for participating in the Easter Triduum include:

·         Read the Mass readings at home in quiet meditation and discuss what God wants us to understand from them.

·         Pray the Stations of the Cross.

·         Visit churches on Holy Thursday evening to pray with Jesus in the Garden of Agony that’s displayed differently at each church.

·         Go to church on Good Friday when the church is empty of the Eucharist, and sense the absence of Jesus and our need for him.

·         Make a thorough examination of conscience to discover our sins and then confess them to a priest.

·         Fast and abstain from meat not only on Good Friday, but also on Holy Saturday.

·         Pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet, especially on Good Friday at 3 p.m., which is when Jesus breathed out his Spirit from the cross and died.

·         Pray the rosary and meditate with Mary about the passion she felt in her heart along with Jesus’ Passion.

·         Have some of the Easter food blessed by the priest on Holy Saturday at the church.

·         Singing the “Stabat Mater” (“At the Cross Her Station Keeping”) on Good Friday and chant the “Regina Coeli” (“Queen of Heaven”) on Easter. 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

School Folder Art Contest Winners Announced

Each year Spirit Catholic Radio provides approximately 25,000 colorful, two-pocket homework folders to Catholic elementary students, compliments of generous business underwriters
Students in our listening areas of Omaha, Council Bluffs, Lincoln, Northeast Nebraska, Central Nebraska and Western Nebraska are invited to use and enjoy the folders in whichever way best serves their needs.
The folders are printed with the artwork from the winners and runners-up from our annual Catholic Schools art contest. Each year, the winners’ artwork is printed on the covers and featured on our web site. Both students and teachers have their names announced on Spirit Catholic Radio in the spring and also win a variety of prizes.
The theme for our 2014 School Folder Art Contest was Encounter Jesus! It's the theme we've chosen to use for the radio network's 15th anniversary, which is this year. 
A big thank you to all the schools and students participating in the 2014 contest. There were tons of fantastic entries from talented students across the listening area. 
The artwork below will be featured on the 2014-15 school folder that will be distributed to all Catholic elementary students in the listening area in August 2014. 

2014 WINNERS
First Place  |  7th-8th Grade Category  |   Marissa Salber, seventh grade, St. Stephen the Martyr in Omaha. Teacher: Mrs. Amy Cowman.
First Place  |  4th-6th Grade Category  |  Savannah Short, sixth grade, St. Margaret Mary School in Omaha. Teacher: Mrs. Clark.
First Place  |  K-3rd Grade Category  |  McKenzie Becker, Kindergarten, St. Joseph in Lincoln. Teacher: Ms. Fox.

2014 RUNNERS UP
Runner up  |  7th-8th Grade Category  |  Cecilia Schneider, eighth grade, St. Cecilia Cathedral School. Teacher: Mrs. Grala.
Runner up  |  4th-6th Grade Category  |  Kate Smith, sixth grade, St. Anthony School in Columbus. Teacher: Roger Krienke.
Runner up  |  K-3rd Grade Category  |  Jacey McConnell, second grade, St. Peter’s Catholic School in Lincoln. Teacher: Mrs. Peg Magnuson.

 Blogged by Kelly Miller, marketing and promotions manager.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Volunteers key in keeping Catholic radio on the air

Volunteers are a vital part of the mission of Spirit Catholic Radio. As a non-profit radio apostolate, volunteers allow the organization to do more, to be more places across the listening area and to reach more people with Christ's message.

There are a number of ways you can volunteer at Spirit Catholic Radio:


  • We need volunteers from across the listening area. This includes the Omaha area, Western Iowa, Northeast Nebraska, Lincoln area, Columbus, Hastings, Grand Island, Kearney, Central Nebraska, North Platte and Chadron.
  • Spirit Catholic Radio has three physical studio locations in Omaha, Lincoln and Grand Island. At these locations there is a need for clerical/office work as well as help with special projects such as putting together mailings and answering phones for the bi-annual Care-a-thon.
  • In all locations in the listening area we need volunteers who can deliver flyers, brochures and materials to their local parish; people who are willing to attend special events on behalf of Spirit Catholic Radio and distribute information; and more.

And volunteers are not limited to these areas. If you have special skills that you feel would be a good fit for Spirit Catholic Radio, please contact us. We'd love to have you join our family of volunteers that mean so much to us. 

If you'd like more information about volunteering, please call 855-571-0200 or e-mail Ann. 

Monday, March 31, 2014

Family faces rare disorder with faith

 
Aurit Update
Two weeks, Scott and Sarah Aurit of Omaha were on Spirit Mornings to share their story of faith and their family’s struggle with a rare children’s digestive disorder (see the previous blog). At the time, they were working on getting a legislative bill passed that would require insurance companies to help pay for the coverage of the specialized formula the three Aurit children and others must take for nutrition.
 
It’s been a couple weeks of highs and lows for the Aurits, but yesterday, Nebraska lawmakers finally advanced the bill, which also included mandating insurance coverage of intensive autism therapy and oral cancer drugs. The measure won first-round approval Wednesday after several failed attempts to attach it to other bills in the final days of this year’s session.
 
The proposals eventually were amended into Legislative bill 254 after its original contents were removed.
 
“It felt like we were witnessing a miracle yesterday to see that the bill passed with a 41-0 vote! Praise, God!” Sarah Aurit said. “It was inspiring to watch the senators come together and come up with another plan in an effort to help the sick and the young.”
 
The formula proposal initially was an effort to require insurance coverage of specialized formulas, but supporters compromised on legislation mandating the state to pay for the formula for children who take it orally. The cost would be about $250,000 per year.
 
Currently, Nebraska’s Medicaid program covers the formula for people with feeding tubes. And the Women, Infants and Children program covers it for low-­income children who take it orally. But there are few coverage options for others who take it orally.
_________________________________________________________________
 
For Scott and Sarah Aurit and their children, there’s no such thing as a “normal” meal in their Elkhorn home.  
 
Their children – J.P., 11, Gianna, 9, and Lizzie, 7 – have a newly discovered gastrointestinal disorder called eosinophilic esophagitis, which makes it painful and harmful to eat most foods. 
 
With the disorder, their white blood cells, which normally fight infection, identify food proteins as parasites and attack them and in turn damages the stomach. Symptoms can resemble food allergies or the flu, with severe vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain and insomnia.
 
Each Aurit child has a number of real foods they can eat. But they receive most of their nutrients through an elemental formula that’s served powdered or premixed and artificially flavored. Gianna can drink it, but J.P. and Lizzie take the formula through feeding tubes implanted in their abdomens.
 
The formula is necessary, and expensive. 
 
For the Aurits, the cost of the formula is comparable to a mortgage payment … times three.
 
An insurance person once even suggested they legally divorce to qualify for government aid to pay for this formula.
 
The Aurits were on Spirit Mornings last week talking about their effort with other Nebraska families to pass Legislative Bill 397, which would allow coverage of the formula regardless of how it’s consumed. Currently, some insurers will only cover the formula if it’s tube fed, not orally fed.

Discovering the disease 
 
As a baby, J.P. had several food allergies – and that’s what doctors initially said they were … food allergies. It wasn’t until they want to a specialist at Children’s Hospital in Omaha that J.P. was diagnosed with EE.
 
When Gianna was born a few years later, she seemed healthy, so Scott and Sarah didn’t have her tested. Lizzie, however, had immediate food aversions – by far the worst of the children – but she couldn’t be tested until she was two-year-old. After testing positive for the disease, Gianna was tested, too. And shockingly the results were the same. 
 
The disease is rare to begin with so to have it with all three children is extremely rare, said Sarah, who also has a lesser-severe form of EE. 
 
She takes steriods to alleviate her symptoms. 
 
Eventually the family began receiving care from the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, and pulled out food from the children’s diets. But nothing helped. So the doctors recommended the children stop eating all food, which was very devastating, Sarah said. 
 
“I mean, how do you tell a five-year-old that they are no longer able to eat?” she said.

That’s when the kids transitioned their nutrition to this elemental formula.

That’s their baseline, Sarah said, the building block. Each child tries one food at a time after every three foods receives a scope to make sure no damage has been done internally, she said. 
 
Scott and Sarah said they initially hid food and not eat in front of the kids, but stopped because they didn’t want their kids to be afraid of food. Now each child can eat certain foods, and Sarah has learned to be creative when it comes to cooking, the family can enjoy dinner together.
 
“We’ve made a lot of progress,” Sarah said.
 
Living with the disease
 
In many ways, the Aurit kids are like most kids. 

They love sports, Gianna likes to write songs, and J.P loves legos.
 
But in many ways, their disease also sets them apart. 

Sarah said her kids sometimes feel left out because they can’t eat the birthday treats their classmates bring in at Fire Ridge Elementary in Elkhorn or the snacks served after a sporting game.
 
Even at Mass, it can be an issue, she said. J.P. and Gianna, who both have received first Communion, aren’t able to consume the hosts. Instead they receive the consecrated wine, which isn’t always available at every Mass.

But the Aurit kids still get to participate in fun activities. 

On Halloween, for instance, the kids went trick-or-treating. But instead of eating their candy, their parents bought it from them and took the kids toy shopping with the money they earned. Sarah gave the candy to local dentist who shipped it to soldiers overseas.

Two years ago the Aurits took their first big family vacation. They chose Disney World specifically because Disney parks accommodate people with food allergies, Sarah said. Before they left for Florida, she sent the park a list of all the foods her kids could eat.
 
Turning to faith
 
For Sarah, the hardest part of all of this is watching her children suffer physically, mentally, emotionally and sometimes even spiritually.  

“It rips my heart out to see them in pain or vomiting, or feeling left out from activities at school and the holidays,” she said. 

Dragging them to medical appointments, getting blood draws, approving painful medical procedures and not having an end point to shoot for make it all very difficult as a parent, she said.  

The Aurits, members of St. Wenceslaus Parish in Omaha, said they have a strong support system of friends, family and others who live with this disease – some worse off than them. But they rely on their faith to more than anything else.

“I honestly don't know where we would be without our faith,” Sarah said. “We have hit some really dark spots … but in those moments, God is so tangible.” 

She said she sees it as an honor to be able to join her family’s sufferings with Christ's. 

“We do it imperfectly, but there is meaning attached to what we go through,” she said. 
 
She said she thinks perhaps her family is being called to a radical form of fasting.
 
“I know we can use it for good,” Sarah said. “I think it’s going to be a blessing in the long run.”

Legislative efforts
 
The Aurits said they are grateful to have negotiated some time-limited coverage through Medicaid for Gianna and J.P. because of their feeding tubes. They now, however, are in the middle of a “perfect storm” where they fear losing all avenues of access, Sarah said.
 
That’s why for the last couple of years the family has worked to have legislation passed requiring insurance companies to cover the elemental formula. 
 
Currently there are 16 other states that have passed similar laws to what the Aurits want to do in Nebraska. They’re working with many parents throughout the country to garner support for Legislative Bill 397 and share information. 

“This isn’t a right or left issue; this is a medical issue and it’s a response to the disease,” Scott said. “This is a formula that is prescribed by a doctor, obtained at a pharmacy through that prescription and you have to be under the care of physician throughout this process, and those items are included in the bill, too.”

The Aurits learned Wednesday that the Banking and Insurance Committee will vote on the bill April 1. 

They’re asking people to pray and to contact the committee members and ask for a vote and for the support for this to go to the full legislature, Scott said. Then they may attach the bill to a few other bills and let the full legislature vote on it, he said. 

“We’re really in the crunch zone here. We’ve got two weeks left to move this process through,” Scott said.

Even though a legislative vote looks promising right now, they understand things might not go in their favor. Sarah said if that happens, her family will be OK. She’s more worried about the other families who are “hanging on by a thread.”  
“We know families who have lost their homes, filed bankruptcy, lost everything because this formula is just so expensive,” Sarah said.
 
Others get their formula in unsafe ways by buying it off ebay or purchasing open containers, or have a child get a feeding tube placed just so their insurance company will cover the costs, she said. That involves surgery, it’s expensive and complications are involved.
“People are so desperate,” she said. “There’s definitely a need there.”
 
Want to help?
 
The Aurits hope people will contact members of the Nebraska Banking, Commerce and Insurance Committee and encourage them to support the LB397.
 
Nebraska Banking, Commerce, and Insurance Committee
Sen. Mike Gloor, Chairperson 
Phone: (402) 471-2617
Email: mgloor@leg.ne.gov
Sen. Kathy Campbell 
Phone: (402) 471-2731
Email: kcampbell@leg.ne.gov
Sen. Tom Carlson 
Phone: (402) 471-2732
Email: tcarlson@leg.ne.gov
Sen. Mark Christensen 
Phone: (402) 471-2805
Email: mchristensen@leg.ne.gov
Sen. Tommy Garrett 
Phone: (402) 471-2627
Email: tgarrett@leg.ne.gov
Sen. Sara Howard 
Phone: (402) 471-2723
Email: showard@leg.ne.gov
Sen. Pete Pirsch 
Phone: (402) 471-2621
Email: ppirsch@leg.ne.gov
Sen. Paul Schumacher 
Phone: (402) 471-2715
Email: pschumacher@leg.ne.gov


Blogged by Lisa Maxson, senior writer/reporter.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Language of Love













Click here for Language of Love Audio

The Language of Love
A letter to the Catholic families and healthcare providers of the Diocese of Lincoln
Most Reverend James D. Conley, STL

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Additional Resources
Click here for a PDF version of The Language of Love.
In Obedience to Christ: A Pastoral Letter To Catholic Couples and Physicians on the Issue of Contraception
Bishop Glennon P. Flavin  |  Click here.
Humanae Vitae  |  Click here.
Married Love and the Gift of Life  |  Click here.
Mother Teresa, 1994 National Prayer Breakfast  |  Click here.
To read more of Bishop Conley, check out his writings and columns.
Twenty years ago, Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta stood before the President of the United States, before senators and congressmen, before justices of the United States Supreme Court.  She spoke about her work among the world’s poor.  She spoke about justice and compassion.  Most importantly, she spoke about love.
“Love,” she told them, “has to hurt. I must be willing to give whatever it takes not to harm other people and, in fact, to do good to them.  This requires that I be willing to give until it hurts.  Otherwise, there is no true love in me and I bring injustice, not peace, to those around me.”[1]
Sacrifice is the language of love.  Love is spoken in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, who poured out his life for us on the cross. Love is spoken in the sacrifice of the Christian life, sharing in Christ’s life, death, and resurrection.  And love is spoken in the sacrifice of parents, and pastors, and friends.
We live in a world short on love.  Today, love is too often understood as romantic sentimentality rather than unbreakable commitment. But sentimentality is unsatisfying.  Material things, and comfort, and pleasure bring only fleeting happiness.  The truth is that we are all searching for real love, because we are all searching for meaning. 
Love—real love—is about sacrifice, and redemption, and hope.  Real love is at the heart of a rich, full life.  We are made for real love.  And all that we do—in our lives, our careers, and our families, especially—should be rooted in our capacity for real, difficult, unfailing love.
But today, in a world short on love, we’re left without peace, and without joy.
In my priesthood, I have stood in front of abortion clinics to offer help to women experiencing unwanted pregnancies; I have prayed with the neglected elderly; and I have buried young victims of violence.  I have seen the isolation, the injustice, and the sadness that comes from a world short on love.  Mother Teresa believed, as do I, that much of the world’s unhappiness and injustice begins with a disregard for the miracle of life created in the womb of mothers.  Today, our culture rejects love when it rejects the gift of new life, through the use of contraception
Mother Teresa said that, “in destroying the power of giving life, through contraception, a husband or wife…destroys the gift of love.”
Husbands and wives are made to freely offer themselves as gifts to one another in friendship, and to share in the life-giving love of God.
He created marriage to be unifying and procreative.  To join husband and wife inseparably in the mission of love, and to bring forth from that love something new. 
Contraception robs the freedom for those possibilities.
God made us to love and to be loved.  He made us to delight in the power of sexual love to bring forth new human beings, children of God, created with immortal souls.  Our Church has always taught that rejecting the gift of children erodes the love between husband and wife: it distorts the unitive and procreative nature of marriage.  The use of contraception gravely and seriously disrupts the sacrificial, holy, and loving meaning of marriage itself.
The Church continues to call Catholic couples to unity and procreativity. Marriage is a call to greatness—to loving as God loves—freely, creatively, and generously.  God himself is a community of love—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Christian marriage is an invitation to imitate, and to know, and to share in the joyful freedom of God’s love, an echo of the Holy Trinity.
_________
In 1991, my predecessor, Bishop Glennon P. Flavin, wrote that “there can be no true happiness in your lives unless God is very much a part of your marriage covenant.  To expect to find happiness in sin is to look for good in evil…. To keep God in your married life, to trust in his wisdom and love, and to obey his laws…will deepen your love for each other and will bring to you that inner peace of mind and heart which is the reward of a good conscience.”[2]
God is present in every marriage, and present during every marital embrace.  He created sexuality so that males and females could mirror the Trinity: forming, in their sexual union, the life-long bonds of family.  God chose to make spouses cooperators with him in creating new human lives, destined for eternity.  Those who use contraception diminish their power to unite and they give up the opportunity to cooperate with God in the creation of life.
As Bishop of Lincoln, I repeat the words of Bishop Flavin.  Dear married men and women: I exhort you to reject the use of contraception in your marriage.  I challenge you to be open to God’s loving plan for your life.  I invite you to share in the gift of God’s life-giving love.  I fervently believe that in God’s plan, you will rediscover real love for your spouse, your children, for God, and for the Church.  I know that in this openness to life, you will find the rich adventure for which you were made.
Our culture often teaches us that children are more a burden than a gift—that families impede our freedom and diminish our finances.  We live in a world where large families are the objects of spectacle and derision, instead of the ordinary consequence of a loving marriage entrusted to God’s providence.  But children should not be feared as a threat or a burden, but rather seen as a sign of hope for the future. 
In 1995, Blessed John Paul II wrote that our culture suffers from a “hedonistic mentality unwilling to accept responsibility in matters of sexuality, and… a self-centered concept of freedom, which regards procreation as an obstacle to personal fulfilment. ”[3]  Generous, life-giving spousal love is the antitode to hedonism and immaturity: parents gladly give up frivolous pursuits and selfishness for the intensely more meaningful work of loving and educating their children.
In the Diocese of Lincoln, I am grateful for the example of hundreds of families who have opened themselves freely and generously to children.  Some have been given large families, and some have not.  And of course, a few suffer the very difficult, hidden cross of infertility or low fertility.  The mystery of God’s plan for our lives is incomprehensible.  But the joy of these families, whether or not they bear many children, disproves the claims of the contraceptive mentality. 
Dear brothers and sisters, Blessed John Paul II reminded us that, “man is called to a fullness of life which far exceeds the dimensions of his earthly existence, because it consists in sharing the very life of God.”[4]  The sexual intimacy of marriage, the most intimate kind of human friendship, is a pathway to sharing in God’s own life.  It is a pathway to the fullness of our own human life; it is a means of participating in the incredible love of God.  Contraception impedes our share in God’s creative love.  And thus it impedes our joy.
The joy of families living in accord with God’s plan animates and enriches our community with a spirit of vitality and enthusiasm.  The example of your friends and neighbors demonstrates that while children require sacrifice, they are also the source of joy, meaning, and of peace.  Who does not understand the great gift of a loving family? 
Yes, being lovingly open to children requires sacrifice. But sacrifice is the harbinger of true joy.  Dear brothers and sisters, I invite you to be open to joy.
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Of course, there are some true and legitimate reasons why, at certain times, families may discern being called to the sacrifice of delaying children. For families with serious mental, physical, or emotional health problems, or who are experiencing dire financial troubles, bearing children might best be delayed.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that couples must have “just” reasons to delay childbearing. For couples facing difficulties of various kinds, the Church recommends Natural Family Planning: a method for making choices about engaging in fruitful sexual relations. 
Natural Family Planning does not destroy the power to give life: instead, it challenges couples to discern prayerfully when to engage in life-giving sexual acts. It is an integrated, organic and holistic approach to fertility care.
Natural Family Planning is a reliable and trustworthy way to regulate fertility, is easy to learn, and can be a source of unity for couples.  To be sure, using NFP requires sacrifice and patience, but sacrifice and patience are not obstacles to love, they are a part of love itself.  Used correctly, NFP forms gentle, generous husbands, and selfless, patient wives.  It can become a school of virtuous and holy love.
Those who confine sexual intimacy to the infertile times of the month are not engaging in contraceptive practices.  They do not attempt to make a potentially fertile act infertile.  They sacrificially abstain during the fertile time precisely because they respect fertility; they do not want to violate it; they do not want to treat the gift of fertility as a burden.
In some relatively rare instances, Natural Family Planning is used by couples with a contraceptive mentality.  Too often couples can choose to abstain from fertility by default, or out of fear of the consequences of new life.  I encourage all couples who use Natural Family Planning to be very open with each other concerning the reasons they think it right to limit their family size, to take their thoughts to God, and to pray for his guidance. Do we let fear, anxiety, or worry determine the size of our families? Do we entrust ourselves to the Lord, whose generosity provides for all of our needs?
“Perfect love,” scripture teaches, “casts out fear.”[5]
Dear friends, I exhort you to openness in married life.  I exhort you to trust in God’s abundant providence.
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I would like to address in a special way Catholic physicians, pharmacists and other healthcare professionals.  The noble aim of your profession is to aid men and women as they live according to God’s perfect plan. Bishop Flavin wrote that, as professionals, “you are in a position to be God’s instruments in manifesting his truth, and his love.”[6]
No Catholic healthcare provider, in good conscience, should engage in the practice of medicine by undermining the gift of fertility.  There is no legitimate medical reason to aid in the acts of contraception or sterilization.  No Catholic physician can honestly argue otherwise. 
Healthcare is the art of healing.  Contraception and sterilization may never be considered healthcare.  Contraception and sterilization denigrate and degrade the body’s very purpose.  Fertility is an ordinary function of health and human flourishing; and an extraordinary participation in God’s creative love.  Contraception and sterilization stifle the natural and the supernatural processes of marriage, and cause grave harm.  They treat fertility as though it were a terrible inconvenience, or even a physical defect that needs to be treated. 
Contraception attempts to prevent life from the beginning, and when that fails, some contraception destroys newly created life.  Many contraceptives work by preventing the implantation of an embryonic human being in the uterus of his or her mother. 
Contraception is generally regarded by the medical community as the ordinary standard of care for women. The Church’s teachings are often regarded as being opposed to the health and well-being of women.  But apart from the moral and spiritual dangers of contraception, there are also grave physical risks to the use of most chemical contraceptives.  Current medical literature overwhelmingly confirms that contraception puts women at risk for serious health problems, which doctors should consider very carefully.
Some women have health conditions that are better endured when treated by hormonal contraceptives.  But the effects of contraception often mask the underlying conditions that endanger women’s health.  Today, there are safe, natural means of correcting hormonal imbalances, and solving the conditions that are often treated by contraception.
Contraception is an unhealthy standard of care.  All doctors can do better.
Catholic physicians are called to help their patients and their colleagues learn the truth about the dangers of contraception and sterilization.  The good example of a physician who refuses to prescribe contraceptives and perform sterilizations or a pharmacist who refuses to distribute contraceptives in spite of antagonism, financial loss, or professional pressure is an opportunity to participate in the suffering of Jesus Christ.  I am grateful for the Catholic physicians and pharmacists who evangelize their patients and colleagues through a commitment to the truth.
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Tragically, a majority of people in our culture and even in our Church, have used contraception.  Much of the responsibility for that lies in the fact that too few have ever been exposed to clear and consistent teaching on the subject.  But the natural consequences of our culture’s contraceptive mentality are clear.  Mother Teresa reflected that “once living love is destroyed by contraception, abortion follows very easily.”[7]  She was right.  Cultural attitudes that reject the gift of life lead very easily to social acceptance for abortion, for no-fault divorce, and for fatherless families.  For fifty years, America has accepted the use of contraception, and the consequences have been dire. 
Dear brothers and sisters, I encourage you to read the encyclical by Pope Paul VI, Humanae Vitae with your spouse, or in your parish.  Consider also Married Love and the Gift of Life, written by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. 
Dear brother priests, I encourage you to preach about the dangers of contraception, and to visit with families in your parish about this issue.
Dear brothers and sisters, if you have used or prescribed contraception, the merciful love of God awaits.  Healing is possible—in the sacrament of penance.  If you have used or supported contraception, I pray that you will stop, and that you will avail yourself of God’s tender mercy by making a good heartfelt confession.
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Today, openness to children is rarely celebrated, rarely understood, and rarely supported.  To many, the Church’s teachings on life seem oppressive or old-fashioned.  Many believe that the Church asks too great a sacrifice. 
But sacrifice is the language of love.  And in sacrifice, we speak the language of God himself.  I am calling you, dear brothers and sisters, to encounter Christ in your love for one another.  I am calling you to rich and abundant family life.  I am calling you to rejoice in the love, and the sacrifice, for which you were made.  I am calling your family to share in the creative, active love of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
I pray that in true sacrifice, each of you will know perfect joy.
Through the intercession of Our Lady of the Annunciation, the Holy Family, and in the love of Jesus Christ,
+James D. Conley
Bishop of Lincoln
March 25, 2014
Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord


[1] Blessed Teresa of Calcutta.  National Prayer Breakfast, 1994.
[2] Glennon P. Flavin, Pastoral Letter to Catholic Couples and Physicians.  September 26, 1991
[3] Blessed John Paul II.  Evangelium Vitae, 13.
[4] Ibid. 2.
[5] I John 4:18
[6] Bishop Flavin.
[7] Blessed Teresa of Calcutta.  National Prayer Breakfast, 1994.