Saint Anthony's Fire

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Mr. Pro-Lifer, Dick Retta

 

Dick Retta is a hero to many of us in the pro-life movement. He has been sidewalk counseling for about 10 years and has personally convinced over 400 women to change their minds about having an abortion. He has had an unbelievable eight 'saves' in one day. No one is more dedicated than this man. He recently turned 80 years old, so I thought it was time for a well-deserved article about him.

Dick's Story:

Dick was a "cradle Catholic," born in the Bronx, NY, in 1931 -- a descendant of Italian immigrants. He had one sibling: a brother, Joseph, two years older who died in 1986. Dick received a bachelor's degree in Electrical Engineering in 1953 from Manhattan College in the Bronx, a Catholic Institution. He also attended Maryland University and has 21 credits in Nuclear Engineering. After college Dick took a job in June 1953 with the Navy Department in Washington DC. There he specialized in Manufacturing Technology Research and Development for Naval aircraft and was chairman of a NATO working group; work which frequently took him to Europe. Dick learned to love traveling in Europe and also traveled to Taiwan, thanks to his son who lives there.

Dick married the former Rosalie Schinelli, also from the Bronx, in 1956. They had seven children, and Dick now has eleven grandchildren. Rosalie died of Leukemia in 2003.

In 1991 Dick's daughter invited him to attend Mass with her at St. Catherine of Sienna in Great Falls, VA. She thought he would like the pastor, Fr. Fasano, and she was right. He was a holy priest and a great homilist. In 1992 Dick began attending Fr. Fasano's Novus Ordo Mass in Latin every Sunday. He also attended Fr. Fasano's weekly Wednesday night Mass and recorded many of his homilies. He became a spiritual director to Dick, resulting in a quantum leap in Dick's faith.

Dick retired in 1997 and five months later began attending daily Mass in Rockville, MD, where in the Catholic Standard, he read an article about people who pray the rosary and counsel at the abortion mill in Kensington. The following Saturday he joined those praying the rosary in Kensington, and every Saturday since, he has been in front of an abortion mill as a prayer warrior and eventually a sidewalk counselor.

Being a prayer warrior was a spiritually rewarding experience for Dick. However, he was absolutely certain he never wanted to be, nor could be a sidewalk counselor.

On occasion he found himself in front of the abortion mill alone for short periods of time and had no idea what to say to abortion-minded women. He took a short course on sidewalk counseling in Baltimore, along with pro-lifers Jim Fritz, Bill Luksic, Francis Popper and Sandy Nunez. They took notes and after the course, together came up with a step-by-step procedure for sidewalk counseling.

He became inspired, and when Jim Fritz expressed a desperate need for sidewalk counselors at the Hillcrest abortion mill on Georgia Avenue in Washington DC, he began his career as a sidewalk counselor. For some reason known only to the Holy Spirit, he overcame his reticence with the very first abortion-minded woman he encountered. She was surrounded by deathscorts who tried to block him. He was as persistent and assertive on that day as he is today. He had to try several times before a woman would accept a flyer from him and many more times before his first save. He enjoyed every minute of his new adventure in pro-life work supported by the Holy Spirit and Our Blessed Mother.

Dick has been a sidewalk counselor since 2001. After the Hillcrest abortion mill closed, he moved on to the Planned Parenthood abortion mill in Silver Spring, MD, then to the Metropolitan abortion mill near College Park, MD, the Hagerstown abortion mill (to help get it going in 2006 and 2007); and finally to the Planned Parenthood abortion mill at 16th and L Streets in Washington DC.

He has been so successful at saving lives he now teaches sidewalk counseling at various locations including Hagerstown, MD, the Washington DC area, Northern VA, New Jersey, Christendom College in Virginia and gives short talks in various locations.

Dick has participated in various pro-life demonstrations such as Jack Ames' famous Face The Truth Tours, Catholic bishops' conferences and in front of House and Senate office buildings. Also, he completed a 100-Day Rosary in front of the White House at the beginning of the Obama administration.

Dick was arrested at Notre Dame University with 87 others in the spring of 2009 protesting pro-abort president Barack Obama's invitation to give the keynote commencement speech. Others from the Baltimore/DC area arrested included Jack Ames, Jim Fritz, Joan McKee and Missy Smith. The group became known as the Notre Dame 88.

In August 2010 he was arrested using a bull horn on the Capitol grounds with Randall Terry and Joan McKee while protesting the democratic administration's new 'Affordable Care Act' being introduced by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.

Dick is the president of Nuestra Madre por la Vida Inc., an organization which helps women turned from abortion with emergency needs up to six months after the baby is born and depends on donations; treasurer of St. Anne's Helpers for Life Inc., which helps women turned from abortion; treasurer of WAKEUP (Women Against the Killing and Exploitation of Unprotected Persons) which promotes and teaches Chastity and pro-life causes; member of the Board of Directors of Right to Life Montgomery County which sponsors various pro-life activities in Montgomery County, MD; member of the St. Raphaels Respect for Life Committee in Rockville, MD.; and member of the core group to close up Carhart's late-term abortion mill in Germantown, MD.

Dick usually spends four mornings a week in front of abortion mills.

If all of that is not enough, Dick assisted Randall Terry and Missy Smith in their campaigns to run for public office in order to place ads on nation-wide public TV showing graphic abortion images to promote awareness of the horrors of abortion.

In regard to the success of Dick's sidewalk counseling effort, he has kept very good records ever since he began in 2001. He has recorded about 400 saves in which he had a direct influence on the abortion-minded woman who changed her mind. In some instances a woman has taken a flyer from Dick and listened to his counseling. In others, women changed their minds because of the prayers of Dick and others.

Dick has often recorded multiple saves in one day. There have been several days when there were five or even six saves. His record is eight saves in one day.

After working with Dick, I believe the key to his success is his persistency. He begins talking to a woman before she leaves her vehicle and continues until she has entered the door of the abortion mill. The talk concentrates on the woman rather than the baby.

Missy Smith has a more colorful view of the reason for Dick's success. Here, in her wonderful words, she describes it.

 

From Missy Smith:

"Dick and I met over a decade ago at Hillcrest killing center on Georgia Avenue in Washington DC. I had started after discovering the traffic in body parts "harvested" from the bodies of babies murdered by abortion. I must say it was a wakeup call, and I was a one-man band, touching on one facade of the pro-life movement after another until it led me to the "front line" as a sidewalk counselor.

"I was a post-abortive woman; having had two abortions not realizing what I was doing was feeding this multi-million-dollar business -- the sale of body parts of aborted babies. I was passionate and had found my life's mission.

"Joan McKee, a friend and great pro-life hero, asked me to accompany her to Hillcrest on Georgia Avenue. It was a three-ring circus by the time we arrived. The sidewalk was narrow, and there were four groups of people. One was the prayer warriors at the end of the sidewalk in a circle saying the rosary, then the so-called "deathscorts" lining the length of the building, then a line of sidewalk counselors with the possible abortion- minded women pushing their way through the crowd.

"Dick was there and he was on fire. I had met Dick briefly at a Knights of Columbus breakfast, but this was the first time I saw him in action. He was darting in and out, up and down the sidewalk trying to ferret out the abortion-minded women.

"I remember thinking, with all this commotion I didn't know where to start. I just stood and tried to make some sense of the overwhelming chaos. Out of nowhere came a woman saying to me, "I just want to thank you for coming out here. Eighteen years ago I was going through that door and one of you came to me and said, "You do not need to do this." I didn't, and I have the most beautiful 18-year-old daughter who is the love of my life." Wow! The Holy Spirit had certainly answered my question quickly. All of a sudden the picture came in very clearly.

"I never have gotten the 'bobbing and weaving' thing down like Dick. He is like an athlete. He is unsurpassed in terms of energy. Like the mailmen of old, no matter what the weather, rain snow, or heat, Dick is out in the front of abortion mills for hour upon hour.

"He truly loves what he does. He spends hour after hour talking to everyone. He speaks directly to all people surrounding the mills. That means evangelizing people passing by, deathscorts, possible abortion-minded persons and finally, when a woman comes out broken and bleeding after killing her innocent child, he is there to offer a kind word and help. He keeps a record of everyone going in and coming out. He encourages women to follow up with him if there is anything they need. And often they do, and he takes them on as his responsibility. I know for a fact he shops for these women when their children need clothes or provides rent money and tries to solve every possible problem that comes up.

"Every waking moment is committed to the pro-life cause and each aspect of it. He is open and pro-active. Whatever is suggested he takes under consideration. He is game to try anything new and will try new strategies not wanting to continue, as he says, "business as usual."

"God is working in Dick in the mightiest of ways.

"Our relationship was forged when Dick had heart surgery. Afterward he said to me, 'God let me live so we could work together to stop the killing of innocent children.' I was really taken aback. That was quite a statement. Little did I know we would end up working hand-in-glove.

"No question, problem or project is too small or too big for Dick to be involved in. He has been invaluable to me in accomplishing projects with WAKEUP, with activism and lobbying and even running for federal office last year when I ran for delegate to congress.

"Dick has been there on every level for me and the pro-life movement. He has been thoughtful, thorough, and generous with his time and money. He is a one man whirling dervish! Who would have guessed that God would send me such a partner, co-worker, friend and supporter? God is so good!"

 

Conclusion:

I asked Dick what his future plans were, and he talked about continuing the kinds of things he has been doing. New things will depend on circumstances like the Carhart late-term abortion mill protest activities. It is a recent addition to my agenda that I felt compelled to participate in and take somewhat of a lead in. Changes will depend on such influences as you, Bill Luksic, Missy Smith, and others, who have been instrumental in my developing into the pro-life person I am today. Only the Lord knows where I am going from here."

Dick feels the biggest challenge facing the pro-life movement is to elect the right people to political office who can and will influence pro-life legislation. The problem is electing politicians who will not turn their backs on the holy innocents for money, blackmail or political favors in order to remain in power.

Equally important, Dick believes is what we as individuals do in our daily lives for the pro-life movement. Praying, counseling, our involvement in abortion awareness programs and what we do at places like Carhart in Germantown all can have an impact on election results.

He knows we can get discouraged on the frontlines of the spiritual warfare because of what we experience in our efforts to save lives. The many men and women who reject our offers of help to allow their unborn children live; passers-by who shout at us for "harassing" abortion-intent women and thank the deathscorts for the "good work" they are doing; the deathscorts who block our attempts to help these women and save babies' lives or help post-abortive woman exiting the abortion mills; and seeing abortion-minded women easily distracted by the deathscorts who talk over us and engage In trivial conversation to keep them from hearing our words of help and encouragement.

Dick, like many of us, has been pushed, shoved, spit on, and threatened by passers-by and abortion-intent women and their companions. Dick was pepper-sprayed by a woman accompanying a pregnant friend. He has had false charges brought against him by the U.S. Department of Justice for blocking a woman entering an abortion mill on 16th Street. But Dick, as a true soldier for Christ, says, "It is difficult sometimes, but important that we stay the course because where we are and what we do is the most important work we could be doing. Know that it is the Lord's work. Our mere presence can save a child's life!"

As Pope John Paul II said: "Above all, the common outcry, which is justly made on behalf of human rights - for example, the right to health, to home, to work, to family, to culture- is false and illusory if the right to life, the most basic and fundamental right and the condition for all other personal rights, is not defended with maximum determination."

Jim Fritz

After listening to a talk on Eucharistic Adoration and the saintly habit of very early morning prayers on Catholic Radio this morning, I feel Missy and I may both be wrong on why Dick is so successful. A good friend of ours called the night before and told me Dick arises in the very early hours in the morning to spend at least 30 minutes praying in front of the tabernacle before and after an early morning Mass.


St Antony's Fire:

Finding Strength to Face Your Weaknesses

By Juan Rodriguez

Many of us have never heard of the bacterial disease called "St Antony's Fire," a deadly fungus that grows on rye flour when is exposed to moisture for a long period. When infected rye flour is consumed, this disease can cause a person to go mad. Why? The symptoms are many: hallucinations, vomiting, and pain that would affect the arms and legs, possibly leading to gangrene. The sick would describe it as burning from within. It was named "St Antony's Fire" because a religious order called the Hospital Brothers of St Antony (Antonines) in honor of St. Antony of the Desert found ways to cure this disease. Who would ever think a disease would be named after a saint?

 

In my personal studies on ministry formation, I was fascinated with the life and teachings of a saint who inspired people to create apostolates, religious orders and communities to bring the gospel message to life. What I gain from reading about these saints are methods to help us combat weakness, maybe even strength to carry on the mission of the Lord who can fortify us for our particular struggles. If God used followers of St. Antony to cure the sick, then why not look into this saint's experience and see if he can cure another disease which spiritually destroys the heart and soul of young men and women -- the spiritual disease we call Lust.

 

A young man confided in me his personal story. In his early teens, his brother took him to a friend's apartment, to listen to music, play video games and watch movies. He described the apartment as a place where one could enjoy the pleasures of a single life -- freedom to do whatever one wanted. Freedom did reign in that place, but it was the wrong kind of freedom. He could still remember entering the apartment and seeing only sound and recording equipment, musical instruments, computers and a large television. The only one piece of furniture was a bunk bed in the bedroom which had been made into a studio. The young man told me he sat on the lower part of the bunk bed, quietly watching his brother speak his friend. He described the conversation as choppy, with a laugh here and there, then a break for serious conversation. He remembered seeing his brother's friend pull out a magazine. A new conversation began - one that would haunt this young man. He said "I couldn't leave." He felt trapped. He could only trust in his brother, remaining by his side in the stranger's apartment. It was the first time this young man saw pictures of nude women posing and behaving in ways he knew nothing about. Later, at his brother's request, they watched a pornographic film. He described it as his first encounter with sex. The young man felt caught up in a web he was neither prepared to face, nor able to free himself from. He described the experience as "great as eating ice cream, except you wanted more."

 

That young man shared his past with me. His uncontrolled weaknesses led to episodes of sexual pleasure. He lost his virginity with an older woman and he began to doubt his ability to find true love and happiness in the sanctity of marriage. Could he ever look at a woman with a clean heart, a loving heart, one that would lead to a fruitful marriage? God is the one who has given us the gift of our sexuality: to both enjoy the sacramental life we share with our beloved, and also to join in the work of creation that God has made us for. The young man was struggling to regain his lost innocence. Could the Church offer its people a spiritual method to combat the effects of lust? I believe it can, and one of the ways is by looking to the saints -- one in particular is St. Antony of the Desert.

 

In "The Life of Antony", written by Athanasius, Antony teaches his disciples about guarding their desires. Antony says, "Let the contest be ours, so that anger does not rule us or desire overwhelm us." In another translation of "The Life of Antony," the word used for "desire" is "lust." We as Christians are called to the challenge of facing our weaknesses. With the help of God we are able to overcome our difficulties if we willingly choose to surrender our lives to God. As Antony was challenged by the Word of God, "If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven," Antony challenges us by calling it our "contest." It is a battle we have faced time and time again, probably failing or losing ourselves by the force of this weakness. Antony believes with the Lord at our side we can overcome our weaknesses.

 

St. Athanasius tells us Antony suffered great hardship from the devil who sought to destroy Antony's pursuit of holiness in God. Athanasius writes, "The devil, who despises and envies good, could not bear seeing such purpose in a youth, but the sort of things he had busied himself in doing in the past, he set to work to do against the person as well." These temptations would come in many ways; a return of wealth, the comfort of family, fame, pleasures that captured his attention -- but Antony discerned that these would pull him away from truly loving God. It reminds me of my young friend who struggled with the effects of pornography; his past would come to haunt him. Because of all the wrong encounters and bad experiences he has had with friends who encouraged him to live a loose life, he felt his body and soul in a "tug of war," felt the pleasures of impurity drawing him back to his old life. It was a spiritual battle against the effects of pornography, very similar to Athanasius' testimony of St. Antony; the spirit of confusion worked hard to bring Antony back to the past, leading him to give up his truest desire, to serve God with his very being. So many times my young friend would tell me of the occasions when he had to go to the Lord for help, to ask people for help, but he would run into the same trap. Later in his life, the sin would cripple his desire to come to the Lord in confession, putting a fear in his heart that God could never forgive him. He felt l it was a dark voice telling him how worthless he was and there could be no escape from his sin.

 

This was Antony's challenge, to separate himself from lust. Antony was no amateur going up against the devil and his minions; in one encounter the devil disguised himself as a lovely woman. Athanasius relates that "the beleaguered devil undertook one night to assume the form of a woman and to imitate her gesture, solely in order he might beguile Antony." Athanasius uses the word "beleaguered" to describe to his readers the bombardment of temptations the demons force upon not only Antony, but all of God's children. Athanasius helps us to imagine the contrast between the terrible force of demons and the gentleness of a woman. This is the deadly trap of the devil, to trick us into believing he would come in one form, then coming in another. The demons would use any trick to persuade Antony to sever his love with God; to make Antony reject his Creator, like Adam and Eve rejected God by taking the fruit, believing they would then be like God. Antony is believed to have fought bravely. Athanasius says, "[I]n thinking about the Christ and considering his excellence won through him, and the intellectual part of the soul Antony extinguished the fire of his opponent's deception." This is one of the fires that Antony fought. Athanasius teaches us that Antony could fight these fires with his love of Christ. He uses the life of Antony to teach us that we as followers of Christ have the Lord as our model of victory. He gave us His grace, which is strength enough to fight against the wickedness and snares of the devil. In every challenge, the Lord will be by our side. Antony saw Christ as his only help. In his account of St Antony, Athanasius teaches us that one can only defend himself against the devil by intimacy with God. Antony wanted this intimacy with God; he was attracted to Christ, his life and His Words. For Antony, God's words were "Eternal Life." In the same way we can see how St. Peter confesses his total surrender to the Word by saying, "Master, to whom shall we go, you have the words of eternal Life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God."

 

St Antony offers us ways by which we can come to Christ, but it would mean that we give up everything to let God into our lives. That is the challenge! St Antony abandoned his old life to live a new life. Prayer, fasting, patience, love, and sacrifice were all part of letting go of one's past, strengthening one's present to live well for the future. One does not have to enter a desert to learn how to live for God. Any Christian, young or old, can learn to separate him or herself from the traps of society while maintaining a fruitful relationship with God, family and friends. For my friend, he was looking to escape the sin that trapped him, that didn't allow him to be truly free before God. Antony teaches us by his life and his words that the key to God is surrendering oneself out of love for want of a personal relationship that will change our lives. But that would take our willingness to pray, to fast, and to sacrifice that which weakens us like pornography. It would also mean finding Christian friends who are willing to offer spiritual support; to find a spiritual director, and to have the desire to receive Christ in the Eucharist. That's what my friend did, and it has helped him to deepen his relationship with God and to truly appreciate women as gifts from God.

 

Like the cure for "St Antony's Fire", God inspired followers of Antony to heal the needy during a time of great pain and suffering. In a similar way, Antony offers a pathway to a cure for our "St. Antonys Fire." It is none other than our total surrender to God.

 

Editor's Note:

 

In this article on St Antony's Fire, Juan illustrates how the disease of lust can be cured by following the life and teachings of this saint.

 

St. Antony suffered great hardship from his disease (lust) yet was able to not only control it but greatly improved his relationship with God and his family and friends.

 

The sin Juan talks of is the sin of pornography, but the sin of homosexuality and other sins can be healed as well.


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