Sunday, February 17, 2013

The 3 - February 17, 2013

This week began with news out of Rome, as Pope Benedict XVI announced his resignation.   That was no doubt the top story of the week.  And, the annual tradition that has its roots in the Catholic church but which has spread out to other people of faith, as well, began this week with Ash Wednesday.   And, the Lenten season also coincides with some other Christian efforts.   Another key story involves the attempt by the U.S. House of Representatives to change existing law that prohibits houses of worship from receiving Federal disaster aid.

3 - Ash Wednesday marks observance of various Christian efforts

This past Wednesday marked the beginning of a 40-day time period leading up to Easter Sunday known as Lent.   The season begins with Ash Wednesday and continues for 40 days, excluding Sundays.   Lent is characterized by an attitude of sacrifice, reflection, and repentance.    A variety of church traditions have incorporated Ash Wednesday and Lent into their practice leading up to Easter.

Also, there are concentrated efforts that track with the 40-day Lenten season.   One of these is "40 Days for Life", a pro-life effort devoted to bringing together the body of Christ in a spirit of unity during a focused campaign of prayer, fasting, and peaceful activism.  The purpose includes repentance, to seek God’s favor to turn hearts and minds from a culture of death to a culture of life, thus bringing an end to abortion.   The 40-day Fall Campaign last year resulted in 789 lives confirmed saved during the campaign, one Planned Parenthood abortion center closed down, and six workers leave the abortion industry.

This year's 40 Days for Life campaign is taking place in 261 locations across America.  In Alabama, that includes Auburn, Birmingham, Huntsville, Mobile and Tuscaloosa.  The 40 Days for Life blog has a piece about a television feature done by Fox 6 in Birmingham, which interviewed Ed Carrick, the local 40 Days for Life coordinator.

The reporter noted that “this is going to be a peaceful movement with no yelling or screaming. They simply want to offer alternatives to abortions.”

Ed talked about his experiences when he first began praying outside the local abortion center.

“I watched as the women come out; they were pretty much devastated,” he said. “Some were in pain. They were definitely at a loss for why they were there and what’s happening to them.

“And I guess to see the pain and suffering in their face, I said I would really like to do something about this, so I kept coming.”

Ed added that churches in the Birmingham community have raised money to fund pro-life pregnancy centers so clients can be supported financially, spiritually, emotionally and medically.

Germantown, Maryland just started its fifth 40 Days for Life vigil outside a facility where LeRoy Carhart travels each week to perform late-term abortions.

According to several reports, 29-year-old Jennifer Morbelli arrived at the abortion center in Germantown from New York state on February 3.   She was also 33 weeks pregnant.  Jennifer was told her child had significant physical anomalies and she was advised to have an abortion.

Because of the very late stage of the pregnancy, the abortion was a multi-day procedure.  After 4 days, on February 7, she was taken to a hospital emergency room early in the morning...and died.

Michael Martelli, a 40 Days for Life leader who serves as director of the Maryland Coalition for Life, is calling on the state to close the abortion center and to suspend or revoke Carhart’s medical license. For now, the business remains open.

Maryland’s chief medical officer and the local police are investigating Jennifer’s death, at the same time when Maryland’s attorney general has just launched a criminal investigation of Carhart on an unrelated matter.

David Bereit, 40 Days for Life’s national director, attended the 40 Days for Life kickoff event in Germantown last fall — and met a baby who had been spared from abortion at Carhart’s facility.

The mother had showed up for her abortion appointment, but the building was not yet open. As people prayed on the sidewalk as part of 40 Days for Life, one of the volunteers asked the woman if she needed help. They directed her to the pro-life pregnancy resource center across the street, where she was told about the many support services available and encouraged to keep her baby.

And, not too far from Germantown, a Washington, DC pastor has initiated a prayer effort to coincide with Lent.  Mark Batterson, Senior Pastor of National Community Church, is the author of a book called, The Circle Maker, and according to the Christian Post, the Circle Maker prayer challenge is a 40 day emphasis on calling out to God.   Batterson says,
Prayer is much like a contract...Those who pray in the will of God and for His glory are creating binding contracts backed by Jesus Christ. It is as if God co-signs the contract, and when people pray together it is as if they are notarizing each other's prayers.
This is an initiative that can help call attention to the importance of prayer in our lives.  There are a variety of resources that can help facilitate spiritual growth during this season.  For instance, has a Bible reading plan for Lent.   We can take advantage of this special time period to reflect and revitalize our walk with Jesus Christ.

2 - House passes bill allowing FEMA aid to churches affected by Superstorm Sandy

The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill on Wednesday that would allow houses of worship to receive federal aid for damage resulting from Superstorm Sandy, as well as future disasters.

According to the Christian Post, the "Federal Disaster Assistance Nonprofit Fairness Act" was passed under suspension of the rules, which meant it needed a two-thirds vote for passage.  It easily met that threshold with 354 members voting in favor and only 72 voting against the bill. The bill will have to be passed in the Senate and signed by the president for it to become law.

The issue came to light after Hurricane Sandy.  Houses of worship were unable to receive the same federal assistance from FEMA as other non-profits who also were aiding victims after disaster.

Americans United for the Separation of Church and State had opposed the bill.  Spokesperson Vanessa Wolbrink wrote that, "Such funding would entangle religion and government by forcing taxpayers to fund religion with which they may not agree, violating the separation of church and state."

Rep. Chris Smith of New Jersey contends that FEMA's policy is discriminatory:  "It's about those who helped feed, comfort, clothe and shelter tens of thousands of victims now being told they are ineligible for a FEMA grant. It is unconscionable that foundational pillars of our communities damaged by Sandy – synagogues, churches, mosques, temples and other houses of worship – have been categorically denied access to these otherwise generally-available relief funds. Current FEMA policy is patently unfair, unjustified and discriminatory and may even suggest hostility to religion."   It is hoped that such a strong sentiment on behalf of these houses of worship as expressed in the House vote will carry over to the Senate, as it takes up this bill.

1 - Pope Benedict announces resignation

It was a major piece of news that came unexpectedly and brought immediate, widespread response on Monday - the news that Pope Benedict XVI, who had served in that position since 2005, was resigning effective the end of February.   At the time of the announcement from the Vatican, the Pope was quoted as saying:
After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry.   I am well aware that this ministry, due to its essential spiritual nature, must be carried out not only with words and deeds, but no less with prayer and suffering. However, in today’s world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to govern the bark of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me.
According to, on Sunday, the Pope appeared at his study window overlooking St. Peter's Square at 11 local time - during the appearance, Benedict urged followers to "renew" and "refocus" on God.
"The church calls on all its members to renew themselves ... which constitutes a fight, a spiritual battle, because the evil spirit wants us to deviate from the road towards God," he said.

At mid-week, the Pope presided over the traditional Ash Wednesday ritual.

Gregory Erlandson, president of Our Sunday Visitor Publishing, publisher of many of the pope’s books, shared some comments on the website.  He said that Pope Benedict...
...continued and made a centerpiece of his pontificate the New Evangelization first proclaimed by John Paul II. He saw clearly that the Church itself needed to be reinvigorated and renewed, and it was in this spirit that he assembled the recent synod of bishops in October.
He also wrote:
At the same time, he has been a great theologian pope, and he had his own agenda. During his eight-year pontificate, he used the Chair of Peter as a pulpit from which to address the challenges and the hopes of modern society. His three encyclicals, "God is Love," "In Hope We Are Saved" and "Charity in Truth," all spoke to his concerns, and revealed both a solicitude for modern men and women in the midst of immense cultural transformation and an unshakable faith that our hope remained always and essentially in Christ.
The resignation of the Pope is important to all Christians, according to John Stonestreet on Friday's Breakpoint commentary:
...If nothing else, the Catholic Church provides people with a Christian ideal to oppose. Or, to put it in biblical language, the Catholic Church, when it’s at its best, serves as a “sign of contradiction” to the dominant worldviews of our age.

As Russell Moore, a Baptist theologian, wrote in First Things, Benedict “stood against the nihilism that defines human worth in terms of power and usefulness.” He did this in his defense of then unborn and elderly life as well as marriage. And he did this by opposing the sexual revolution, religious persecution, and torture of prisoners...

Chuck Colson would have agreed with that assessment. And while Evangelicals share these concerns, we often tend to see them as a series of disconnected battles. We’ve missed something that connected them and provided a comprehensive alternative to the nihilism Moore mentions.

That “something” is the belief that human beings are created in the image of God. The culture-wide “dehumanization” that Benedict and his predecessor opposed is, at root, a rejection of God Himself. By putting this rejection in its proper context, we can not only oppose its demonic consequences but offer a life-affirming alternative vision of what it means to be human.
What's next?  There will be a conclave of cardinals that will take place soon after the resignation of Pope Benedict becomes effective.  It is anticipated that a new Pope could be in place in order to perform Mass on Easter Sunday, which is on March 31.

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