A couple weeks ago I had the privilege to be selected with 46 other people across the world to attend the Vita Institute at the University of Notre Dame. From their website:
The Vita Institute is an intensive interdisciplinary training program for leaders in the national and international pro-life movement. The Vita Institute aims to further enhance participants’ expertise and prepare them to be even more effective advocates on behalf of the unborn. Held for a week every summer on Notre Dame’s beautiful campus, this program is wholly unique: it provides participants with the opportunity to study the fundamentals of life issues with world-renowned scholars across a wide range of disciplines, including social science, biology, philosophy, theology, law, communication, and counseling. No prior knowledge of these disciplines is assumed or required. Vita Institute alumni include the senior leaders of the most high profile and important pro-life organizations from around the world, grassroots activists, and concerned citizens from across the full spectrum of pro-life vocations.
I met people from all over the world working in all different aspects of pro-life work while being taught by top-notch professors and scholars. Truly an amazing experience and one that I will use in my future work to fight for the rights of the unborn, the elderly, and the disabled.
One of the best parts of the entire 10 day experience was attending daily mass. This was my first trip to South Bend to see ND’s campus and I was just blown away. I didn’t want to leave! I had wished that I went there for college. But since it’s too late for that, no reason I can’t start prepping my nephews to go there. I bought them ND shirts and told my sis to start getting the applications ready. I mean so they’re 9 and 14 years old. Never too early to start, right?
On Sunday, the feast of the Holy Trinity as well as the Saturday Vigil mass of the feast of Corpus Christi, we attended mass at the Basilica. The pictures just don’t do it justice. I highly recommend going there yourself to experience this holy place.
I took a ton of pictures but too many to post here. Suffice it to say, it’s worth a road trip for any of you who live in the midwest.
In addition to those Sunday masses, we had daily mass in the chapel at the School of Law where our classes were held. Fun fact: There’s a chapel in every dorm and (I think) in every major building. Yeah. Super Catholic. LOVE IT!
Our chaplain was Fr. Michael Sherwin, O.P. for all but one of the masses. And all but one of the masses were held in the St. Thomas More Chapel. One was held in the Holy Cross Chapel in the Engineering building.
And the chapel were I spent most of my time in prayer everyday, right there in the dorm where we stayed:
While I took many notes from the homilies that Fr. Michael had, I found myself quite distracted much of the week. Unfortunately, I had a hard time detaching myself from the “real world” and distractions at home. As hard as I tried to be present, I found myself crying at mass more than joyful, lamenting more than trusting, and under attack more than feeling loved. It wasn’t until the tail end of the course that I finally surrendered and told God, “Okay I get it! I asked for an increase in trust in You and You answered that prayer. I can’t control the outcome of this situation but I can trust that You have your hand in it.”
In fact, one of the Antiphons from one of the Evening Prayers during the week was:
Doing my Father’s will is the food that sustains me.
And one of the Responses:
God is my savior and my glory.
-I take refuge in Him.
And one of the Readings from 1 Peter 5:7
Cast all your anxieties on him because he cares for you.
So it was consoling to realize that every time I went to pray my Liturgy of the Hours, I found an answer in prayer to what was distracting me.
Not to mention the weather was absolutely perfect the whole time I was on campus and even when it rained, it was short-lived. Which was really great because it allowed me to take all these amazing photos of the campus.
Some closing thoughts on the Vita Institute experience:
One of the most profound things that was said during the entire week came from one of the participants from the Archdiocese of New York. She said:
“The Catholic parish is the alternative to Planned Parenthood.”
What she meant is that people need an encounter with God first and foremost. Our Catholic parishes do indeed have all the right tools to counter-act the Planned Parenthood message of death. We, the Church, have the truth, we have the beauty and we have the good. We are indeed the alternative to Planned Parenthood. But we need to actually speak up about this truth as much as we possibly can so women (and men) far and wide know that if they are in a crisis pregnancy, they can come to their local parish and be welcomed and assisted.
I also reflected on conversations with pro-chociers and how I try not to mention God or the Bible or my faith when making the claim that all humans, regardless of size, have a right to life. I try not to mention all of this because I don’t want to turn the conversation into a religious one. And I’ve been there on more than a couple occasions when I’ve been accused of being a “right-wing nut job” or “misogynist” or even when I’m told to “take your prayers and shove them up your sanctimonious a$$.”
So that’s why I have tried to refrain from mentioning anything remotely “religious” as the basis for my pro-life beliefs. But I find that it’s really difficult to keep the conversation going if I don’t credit my God with creating human life. At some point, I have to acknowledge where that dignity comes from in each and every human being (Spoiler alert: It’s given to us by God.)
So as much as I would love to appeal to atheists and agnostics and anti-Catholics when it comes to fighting for the rights of the unborn, the elderly and the disabled, and I will continue to try, I can’t be so quick to strip God and my faith out of the conversation so I don’t “offend” them. None of us in the pro-life movement can afford to worry about offending anyone. We have the truth on our side. And that’s what wins in the end. No matter what Cecile Richards, George Soros, Gloria Steinem or any other pro-abortion advocate has to say on the matter. This is not a time to be cowards or to be shy. Compassionate speech does change hearts and minds. Speaking the truth in a charitable manner does cause people to pause and think twice about their views.
So to all my fellow pro-life warriors, keep fighting the good fight. We know who wins.
For more on human dignity and abortion, watch this great video from Bishop Barron*: Bishop Barron on Planned Parenthood and the Loss of Human Dignity
*Start at the 4:57 mark
Next blog post will be back to the regular format of the DMP – Two parishes in Michigan – Our Lady of Good Counsel in Plymouth and Christ the King in Ann Arbor. And as an added bonus, I attended my first Lutheran mass ever in Elkhart Indiana at Trinity Lutheran.