Christ – the "Cornerstone" of our Teaching
Presentation for the 2014 "Cornerstone Conference" at the Tacoma Convention Center
by the Most Reverend Joseph J. Tyson, Bishop of Yakima
(haz clic aqui para leer en Español)
First off, I want to thank Archbishop Sartain for setting the table this morning on some key theological and catechetical themes tied to this kick off state-wide "Cornerstone" event. In a beautiful way, he reminded us that Jesus – himself – is the "Cornerstone" in all we are and all we do in uplifting the gift of life.
Knowing that Jesus IS the "Cornerstone" I'd like to shift and name how all of us – together – form the "living stones."
The first "living stone" I want to name is Archbishop Sartain himself. He represents for all of us Jesus who is "Cornerstone" because Archbishop Sartain is not only "Archbishop of Seattle" but as "Archbishop" he serves all of us as the metropolitan of the Ecclesial province of Seattle – a province to which the Spokane and the Yakima Diocese belong.
This is a fine point and one often overlooked, but under the Church's structure of governance the metropolitan Archbishop gathers the bishops of his province together to discuss key common issues. As such he chairs the Washington State Catholic Conference – the bishops of Washington State along with some key lay advisors to monitor and support the Church's activity in public policy matters – especially with regards to the Washington State legislature. It was in this capacity that Archbishop Sartain asked me to anchor the conversation among our three Catholic Charities Directors as well as among us bishops on creating a more robust response to the challenge posed by the many life issues affecting public policy here in Washington State.
Likewise I want to acknowledge the many "living stones" all across Washington State. Because of your wonderful ministry, the gift of life is supported all across Washington State. Allow me to name just a few of these "living stones."
We have "living stones" who collect diapers and baby bottles for the newborn in Ellensburg. We have "living stones" in Monroe who make sure the families of prisoners have a place to stay when visiting their loved ones. We have dedicated parishioners opening their churches and providing care to the homeless in Olympia, Seattle and Spokane. The list could go on!
Across the state our Knights of Columbus, our Catholic Daughters of America, our Young Ladies Institute as well as our Councils of Catholic Women have individual and local projects occurring in their chapters that support young moms, support local aid efforts for women in emergency situations, support the unborn and support women and their children in those early years of life. They are wonderful "living stones" shaping and forming the ministry of their local parishes and faith communities.
Similarly, animated by our Catholic faith, we have wonderful housing for migrant workers in Granger and Quincy. Thanks to Catholic Charities we have new homeowners who put in sweat equity and creating new property taxpayers in Sunnyside, Mattawa, and Tieton. We have wonderful mentoring programs for new moms as well as new dads in the city of Spokane. We have expanded care for families who need a professional to help their loved ones with mental illnesses in Wenatchee and Walla Walla. Our Catholic hospitals in Bellingham, Olympia, Walla Walla, Spokane, Tacoma and Longview often provide the first health care response for the poor, the indigent, and the undocumented. All across the state we have a wide spectrum of counseling services that help keep families together and intact. All of these people serve as "living stones" of the Church's charity and care.
Having names just a few of the many living stones allow me to propose two challenges at this Cornerstone Conference as we build for the future.
First Challenge: Connecting the Life Issues
The first challenge is this: Can we draw the connections? Can we draw the connections between our commitment to the unborn and our commitment to the undocumented? Can we draw our connection between our commitment to the unborn and our commitment to combat child poverty? Can we draw a connection between our opposition to euthanasia and our opposition to the death penalty?
You are all aware of our bishops' teaching document issued every four years titled "Conscience Formation for Faithful Citizenship." Very simply put the document notes that beginning- and end-of-life issues such as abortion and euthanasia are weighted more heavily because without that basic right to life everyone else's life can be endangered: the unemployed and the undocumented, those lacking basic food, clothing, shelter and health care; those needing education, mental health and social supports.
Pope Francis – himself – stresses the importance of drawing connections and giving proper weight to Church teachings as he states in his apostolic letter, "The Joy of the Gospel."
" ... it needs to be said that in preaching the Gospel a fitting sense of proportion has to be maintained. This would be seen in the frequency with which certain themes are brought up and in the emphasis given to them in preaching. For example, if in the course of the liturgical year a parish priest speaks about temperance ten times but only mentions charity or justice two or three times, an imbalance results, and precisely those virtues which ought to be most present in preaching and catechesis are overlooked. The same thing happens when we speak more about law than about grace, more about the Church than about Christ, more about the Pope than about God's word ... " (38)
When we talk with folks about our particular ministry do we also draw the connections with other key moments on the life spectrum? How do acknowledge the serious weight given to beginning- and end-of-life issues such as abortion and euthanasia – and at the same time – help those around us understand that whatever particular volunteer activity in which we are engaged is also part of a larger witness to the gift of life that begins in the womb and ends with a reverent death?
Even more do they know the love, the mercy and the forgiveness always available to them that comes from Jesus Christ? If we're on the picket line praying for an end to abortion, how do we acknowledge the good work of those making sure that children continue to be wanted and loved through adoption services and early childhood services?
If we're a dedicated member of "Just Faith" so that our witness to social justice is anchored in the timeless truths that come from scripture and our faith tradition, how are we acknowledging the more heavily weighted teachings around beginning- and end-of-life issues?
And whatever our passion, whatever our cause, whatever our ministry, do we reflect in word and deed the overwhelming love and mercy of God that is always the starting point for a conversion of life?
Over my years as a priest and bishop I have noticed that – among ourselves – we struggle with a certain tendency to view our faith through a political lens – be that a left lens or a right lens – with the result that those in politics and public life will cherry pick certain aspects of the Church's moral teaching in order to pander for votes and bolster their particular political party.
Our catechesis on life issues needs to do just the opposite. We need to help our people view their life – including political life – through the lens of faith. Good catechesis ought to assist our folks in drawing connections between a bookend issue like abortion and other issues of justice such as immigration.
Allow me to stay with those two issues – abortion and immigration – just as an example. You are all aware that Cardinal Sean O'Malley – who has been very articulate on the question of abortion – recently presided at a Mass on the Mexico-US border with a number of bishops including our own Bishop Eusebio Elizondo.
A reporter asked him whether this represented a shift in his thinking. The reporter – like many reporters – considered abortion an issue of the "right" and immigration reform an issue of the "left." What was Cardinal Sean O'Malley's response? Immigration reform IS a life issue.
Recently, Brownsville Bishop Daniel Flores drew the connection even more tightly – and I am not doing justice to his reflection – when he shared with a group of us bishops in Chicago that what links the unborn and the undocumented together is their lack of legal status or standing. The unborn have no status because they lack the document we call a "birth certificate" and likewise the "undocumented" lack status because they hold no papers. But – as Bishop Flores noted – "human dignity" needs no documents. In short, our catechesis on life ought to be a lens through which we can view and weigh all Catholic social teaching.
Neither abortion or immigration reform should be a "red-state" issue or a "blue-state" issue, an issue of the political "left" or the political "right," an issue simply for Democrats or Republics. No these are "life" issues.
Now friends, what I've done is but just one example – connecting immigration with abortion. Can you do that? Can you connect the issue about which you are most passionate with the bookend issues at the beginning and end of life?
Now I know that's an edgy question and "not yet" is the perfect response because that's why we're all together here at the "Cornerstone Conference."
These questions of witness go straight to the heart of our faith and the core act of our faith – the Eucharist. The great seventh century St. John Damascene noted: "If the sacrament is a union with Christ and at the same time a union of all, one with another, it must give us real unity with those who receive it as we do."
The Second Challenge: Making a Joyful Proposal for Life
That leads to my second proposition for your consideration: Can we make a joyful and attractive response to the challenges faced by the marginal and the poor that links and unifies our care for the unborn with our care for women, our care for those in poverty and our care for those needing the basics of life?
In raising this second proposal for your consideration I want to take you through a little history lesson.
Many of you know Sister Sharon Park who serves us as the executive director of the Washington State Catholic Conference. She keeps us up to date on current events and issues on the state level. She's also been the lynchpin – dare I say "cornerstone" – as we've contemplated ways in which we can draw these catechetical connections on all the life issues within our Catholic parishes, our Catholic schools, our Catholic Charities agencies, our Catholic hospitals as well as all the other Catholic organizations which we bishops so much appreciate.
Well here's what you might not know: She's a chip off the old block. Indeed, my earliest introduction to public policy issues came at the kind tutelage and instruction of Sister Sharon Park's mother! For us seventh graders at St. Alphonsus grade school in Seattle's Ballard district, Sister Sharon Park's mother had a first name and that was MRS as in MRS Park.
It was THE Mrs. Park who – in 1970 – as part of our civics class led us on a public policy practicum. The question of whether to legalize abortion came up before the Washington State legislature. Interestingly, the vote was very divided. In those years sizable numbers of both Democrats and Republicans favored legalizing abortion and sizable number of both Democrats and Republicans opposed the legalization of abortion.
Here in Washington State – and I learned this thanks to Mrs. Park – the legislature can pass a piece of legislation and then they can send the legislation as a "Referendum" to the people for their vote. Thus in 1970 we had on our ballot Referendum 20, and Mrs. Park – herself – helped organize us into little leafleting groups blanketing Seattle's Ballard district with posters and flyers opposing Referendum 20.
Sadly, voters in Washington State did legalize abortion by a narrow margin in 1970. We were the first – and really the only state to do this by popular ballot. Arguably Washington State was the first political entity in the world to vote – by popular ballot – for the legalization of abortion. Other legalizations before Roe vs. Wade occurred by judicial fiat – or – as in the case of communist countries in Eastern Europe – by a dictatorial system of government.
I take you all through this history lesson because – and here's the crux of my second point – if Roe vs. Wade were reversed tomorrow here in Washington State nothing would change – abortion would still be legal.
I am going to repeat that: Even if we reverse Roe vs. Wade – and God willing we will – but even if we were to reverse Roe vs. Wade nothing changes here in Washington State because this state voted to legalize abortion by popular ballot before Roe vs. Wade.
That's why our opposition to Roe vs. Wade is not enough. Here in Washington State, we need a convincing witness to the gift of life and the demand of justice that is very local and very attractive. How do we – in mercy and charity – walk the journey with those in need whether born or unborn? How do we witness through our service the great truth that life is precious from the moment of conception to the moment of death? How do we make this "truth" about life attractive and convincing – especially to the un-churched and non-believers so they see the reasonableness of this truth to which we bear witness?
For a number of months, the bishops, their advisors on the Washington State Catholic Conference Board, key leaders among the clergy across the state, the directors of Catholic Charities across Washington State, key personnel from their agencies as well as key leaders in the Knight of Columbus have been engaged in a conversation about a more unified and systematic approach especially for those in need at the beginning of the life cycle.
This is why the bishops of the state are launching Prepares as a systematic response to women in need of our support and care as they "choose life." Prepares stands for Pregnancy and Parenting Support, a program to assist pregnant women, fathers and children from conception of the child until the child's fifth birthday. Again, good things are already taking place in many of our communities across the state. Many times our local parishes have been able to network with agencies and organizations supported by folks from a variety of faith backgrounds.
But it's also true that there are pockets across the state that lacks a systematic way of responding to the needs of women and their children especially when facing a crisis pregnancy. Sometimes we are working alone and in silos. Sometimes the fine work of Catholic Charities and Catholic organizations is not known in neighboring parishes. Sometimes the effort of local parishes is not coordinated with neighboring Catholic agencies. Sometimes the efforts of a local outreach for pregnant women in our local community are uncoordinated and sometimes unknown to our parishes.
The support network would provide resources for everything from crisis pregnancy referrals through family services through a child's fifth birthday – even reaching out to young siblings of a new baby.
We want to make sure that no child – born or unborn – is ever abandoned or alone. We want to make sure that every mother whether they are in a small rural town or a large city, whether they live in a predominately Spanish-speaking community or a predominately English-speaking community has caring people around them walking those critical first five years of their child's life. We want to make sure that the fathers of these children receiving mentoring and support regardless of their legal status or employment status. We want to make sure that extended families get the help they need as they walk with their sister or daughter as she become a mother.
What we envision is a life program to provide consistent pregnancy and parenting support services aligned with Catholic social teachings and best practices. We're currently bringing on area coordinators who will review which pregnancy and support services are already available in parishes throughout their dioceses. Once the area coordinators have completed this assessment, our three diocesan coordinators will then establish a common referral system through which interested individuals, either by phone or on-line, may seek the specific help they need within about 30 miles of their location.
This will take some time to accomplish because there are more than 225 parishes throughout the state, many of which have parishioners who speak Spanish as their primary language. We have an introductory website up and running, and more than 200 carefully screened volunteers across the state will swing into action to help in the information-gathering process by June 2015. The next goal is to make preliminary contacts in every parish in the state by July 30, 2015 and have served more than 4,000 families in Washington in some way by that time.
Conclusion: Will you walk the journey of life?
Will you walk this journey too? Friends, I'm very grateful for George Czerwonka our state deputy for the Washington State Knights of Columbus who has provided hours of conversation and advice. I'm grateful to our three Catholic Charities agency directors: John Young in Yakima, Rob McCann in Spokane, and Mike Reichert in Seattle. I'm grateful to Lisa Green our PREPARES director.
I am hoping that many of you join our efforts in this PREPARES initiative so at this time I ask you to reach into your bags and get out the PREPARES pledge card as well as the pen we've given you today. Let's walk through that card and fill it out together right now and then let's close with a prayer:
Loving and Gracious God
We give you thanks and praise for the gift of our lives as well as the very gift of life itself.
Help us to increase our reverence for the gift of life from the moment of conception to the moment of natural death.
Increase in us a concern and a care for those who stand in the shadow of society: the poor and the vulnerable, migrants and refugees,
the undocumented and the immigrant, the lonely and the forgotten, those needing medical and mental health care,
those lacking the basics of food, clothing and shelter, as well as basic education.
Grant us the wisdom and understanding to anchor these concerns into the most basic reverence for life in the womb
at the very beginning as well as life that draws to an end for without a right to life for the unborn.
Help us teach the truth that without a right to life for the unborn and the dying, all rights for all the poor and vulnerable remain endangered.
Grant us insight as we prepare to create attractive alternatives that will serve women, their children both born and unborn,
as well as their spouses and their families so that lives may be transformed and hearts might be changed and renewed.
We ask all this in the name of your Son who is our Cornerstone and our Savior Jesus Christ our Lord
who lives and reigns with you in union with the Holy Spirit, One God forever and ever. Amen.