Jan 312011

By Terry O’Neill

Good evening. Thank you Louanne. Thanks to all of you. What a privilege to be here tonight to be the inaugural speaker at St. Joseph’s new chapter of the Catholic Women’s League, whose new motto, I am given to understand, is, “The St. Joe’s CWL: Not your mother’s Catholic Women’s League!

Actually, this reminds me of the time when my mother was with an organization called the Imperial Order of the Daughters of the Empire, or IODE for short. Well, over time, the members came to conclude that their name was more than a little dated and fusty, and so they started to brainstorm about a new name, perhaps with the same initials, but standing for something else. Well, after much discussion and study, they couldn’t come up with anything, so they decided to simply stick with the initials, IODE, and have it stand for nothing! Let’s hope the CWL doesn’t follow the same path!

I recognize many familiar faces in the audience tonight. It’s great to see you all here this evening.

What an exciting time for you. So much to look forward to, so many things you can do.

#1 [read from the CWL’s “I belong because” doc]

Tonight, I want to concentrate on the part of your mission that talks about “making a difference.”

There are, indeed, many problems to tackle. So, in way, it’s a time of opportunity. To defend and promote Catholic values within a popular culture which is decidedly not Catholic!

It’s easy to see the big problems. We all know them. From legalized abortion and the increasing acceptable of prostitution, to the scourge of Internet pornography and rampant drug use, we Catholics have our hands fall because our Christianity compels us to stand up for truth, to fight evil, and to change the world for the better.

We live in a wonderfully rich age, but in a way we’ve become decadent. The glamorization of, essentially, sin is seeping into so many aspects of popular culture. Just look at this apparently uncontroversial ad I found in a recent newspaper:

#2 [read from Volvo ad “There’s more to life than a Volvo. Like raising a little hell with 300 horses, spanking corners with your all-new sport-tuned chassis, and feeling a little dangerous in a car tricked out with safety technology. That’s why you drive the all-new NAUGHTY Volvo S60. Introducing the all-new NAUGHTY Volvo S60.” Why is it that sin sells?.. etc.]

But the very fact we are here tonight speaks very strongly to the idea that we want a different world. A better world.

One of my favourite writers is GK Chesterton: “A dead thing can go with the stream, but only a living thing can go against it.” – Everlasting Man, 1925

And so, in swimming against the popular currents, the CWL is showing that Catholic women are, indeed, very much alive.

But what exactly is it that you can and should do. Well…

#3 [read from the list of CWL resolutions on everything from fighting prostitution to fighting obscure chemicals in plastics.] I can’t blame you if you feel overwhelmed.

I’d suggest that, instead of fighting against dangerous chemicals or bottled water [#4 aside here – info in recent BC Catholic suggesting it’s a sin not to recycle your plastic], that you get radical! And by radical, I’m referring to the deeper meaning of the word, which is that to take a radical approach is to get to the ROOT of the issue.

And, in my mind, there’s nothing more helpful, and no better guide to getting radical than the prayer we say every Sunday, the prayer for the reverence for Life. – our commitment to protecting, fostering and celebrating human life, from the moment of conception until it’s natural end.

This prayer flows directly from the Church’s commitment to the Culture of Life.
You’ve probably heard many references to the “Culture of Life” But what does it mean?

#5 [Pope’s Culture of Life in Wikipedia:
The expression owes its origins to Pope John Paul II, who first used it in a tour of the United States in 1993. Speaking to journalists at Stapleton International Airport near Denver, Colorado, the Pope denounced abortion and euthanasia, stating that “The culture of life means respect for nature and protection of God’s work of creation. In a special way, it means respect for human life from the first moment of conception until its natural end.” Cardinal Bernard Law reiterated the theme, urging Americans to “spread the culture of life over the culture of death”.

One possible source for this philosophy is the Didache, a first century Christian document which exposes the doctrine of two ways: the way of life and the way of death. This work is part of the Church’s Magisterium and has often been cited by Popes.

The Pope returned to the theme in April 1995 through the encyclical Evangelium Vitae Gospel of Life:
“In our present social context, marked by a dramatic struggle between the culture of life and the culture of death, there is need to develop a deep critical sense capable of discerning true values and authentic needs.”]

For the past two decades, my career as a journalist and a community activist has been propelled by my commitment to furthering the culture of life in our society.

Many of my articles in the National Post, for example, are actually rooted, in part, in a desire to educate Canadians about the proper relationship between humans and the natural world – a relationship that radical environmentalism and animals rights activists have skewered.

  • Note recent column about trans-oceanic dog Dog Rescue.
  • Note recent column about the crusade for Sacred Salmon.
  • Tell story of Last Eden from Time magazine from the mid 1990s (in which a place so remote that it was not inhabited by humans was said to be an Eden. Whereas our traditional understanding of “Eden” is that place where humans and nature live in perfect harmony, not “Eden” is bereft of humans. Frightening implications if one extends the logic.

“Great truth,” Chesterton once said, “can only be forgotten and can never be falsified.”

If the truth about human life has, indeed, been forgotten, it is our job, then, as educators teaching about, and activists promoting authentic human rights, to remind people—and, indeed, to remind the entire popular culture—of the many profound truths they have forgotten or which have been deliberately hidden from them.

We may whisper it in their ears. Or we may shout it from the highest mountain tops, but remind them we shall. Think about that word “re-mind” for a moment. We throw it around casually, reminding our kids to clean up their rooms; reminding ourselves to pick up the groceries and dry cleaning. “Remind” sounds pretty mundane when used like this.

But look at what it can also mean when you really look at the MIND part of the word. When we talk about re-minding the culture about the buried truths surrounding life issues, it can be said that we are talking about finding a new way to give them BACK their minds. They once had minds, they lost them, and now we are going to “RE-mind” them.

That’s a pretty big – and pretty important job, I’d say. So, in “re-minding” the public, we’re not just causally suggesting that they take a passing look at these issues. We are aiming to bring their minds back to life.

And don’t you just love the sound of that last phrase: Back to Life. Back to the understanding that life begins at conception. Back to the appreciation that every life has intrinsic value.Back to the recognition that life should not be ended to further someone’s personal convenience. Back to the realization that life is precious.

This is not a little job. This is not something of little importance. It is the vital issue of our time. And when we talk about vital, we once again find ourselves looking at another so-very important word that is deeply connected to everything we do: Vital, a word whose definition includes something that means “full of life.” … It all comes together, doesn’t it? …

So, when we “re-mind” people, we are bringing their minds back to Life. And we are doing this because it is Vital work – work that is FULL of Life.

On the activism side of what my life these days, I sit on the advisory board of Pregnancy Concerns, here in Coquitlam. And I now chair Signal Hill.

Signal Hill’s mission is to deliver clear and supportive education on life issues to all people, helping them make informed and life-affirming decisions. And to reach that goal, we have two main areas of focus: education and targeted media.

On the educational front we do presentations directly to students, community and church groups. We also develop and distribute printed and multimedia materials for schools, pharmacies, doctors’ offices and other strategic locations.

In high schools, we can tie in Human Development with sexual integrity and other life issues like suicide. By showing that we value life in all phases, we are showing society that we are consistent and compassionate, from the beginning of life right to the end.

Between our presentations and our training of teachers, our message has reached more than 4,000 students over the past year alone and we are just getting started.

On the targeted media side, Signal Hill develops and places TV ads, on-line ads, billboards, print ads and other media. With your help we will also be developing a series of educational videos, launching a Google Ad campaign and developing smart-phone applications. We are embracing technology in order to more effectively reach our target audience and because new technology and social networking tools allow our efforts to be more measurable and targeted.

Signal Hill went through a big change a few years ago, in which it transformed itself from a traditional pro-life organization into a completely new, re-branded, re-focused and re-energized society dedicated to what is, essentially, a new way of communicating our important, life-affirming message.

Instead of the old way of directly instructing people about what was moral and immoral, legal and illegal, we—essentially—decided to start telling STORIES designed to reach people’s hearts, with the clear hope that our non-judgmental, educational, and human-rights oriented approach would eventually change their minds.

Here I turn once more to the great English writer and apologist G.K. Chesterton …

“Reason is always a kind of brute force;” he wrote. “Those who appeal to the head rather than the heart, however pallid and polite, are necessarily men of violence. We speak of ‘touching’ a man’s heart, but we can do nothing to his head but hit it.”

Signal Hill has committed itself to touching people’s hearts!

There is no better illustration of the effectiveness of this approach than the story that’s told in the documentary film Beyond the Gates of Splendor, which my wife Mary and I watched the other night.

[Tell the story of the documentary, which recounts how five Christian missionaries went to the Amazon jungles in the early 1950s, and the five husbands were murdered by a savage tribe they were attempting to contact, but the five wives and their young children stayed on (nearby) and eventually made contact, and brought light to the savage world. Women touching people’s hearts to change the world for the better.]

A great example of how touching people’s hearts will and can change their minds. And a true manifestation of the triumph of the Culture of Life over a Culture of Death.

Don’t think for a second that a new CWL chapter in little old Port Moody can’t achieve the same great success in the jungle that is our popular culture.

God’s speed as you go forward.

Thanks and good night.

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