Sidewalk Counselors

Editorial

RELATIVISM: THE NEW TYRANNY

                                       RELATIVISM:  THE NEW TYRANNY

            Who among us is not concerned about the profoundly disordered moral state in which the world finds itself today? The many grave evils and perversions of our time are a result of what Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI (then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger) called "a fatal misunderstanding of freedom which actually undermines man's freedom and ultimately destroys it." The pontiff also noted that those who live according to a clear faith based on the Creed and the Church are viewed as extremists, while relativism -- that is, letting oneself be tossed here and there, carried about by every wind of doctrine -- is extolled. Our Pope Emeritus warned, "We are building a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one's own ego and desires." The grave evils destroying us as individuals and as a society have left us with a culture marked by violence and death. 

            In his encyclical letter, Veritatis Splendor (The Splendor of Truth), Blessed John Paul II reminds us of the need to form our consciences in accord with the moral teaching of the Church. Regarding the unchanging truths about God, ourselves, and our world, it is Jesus Christ, through His Mystical Body, the Church, who has come to dispel the darkness of error and sin and to fill our souls with the light of truth and goodness. It is only by living a life in accord with the truth that one will find true freedom and true joy.   

            Two thousand years ago, one man's question echoed in a hall in Jerusalem.  "What is truth?" Pontius Pilate asked Jesus (John 18:38). That same question echoes in our hearts today. Is there really truth to be found when it comes to the most important things in life, or are we each simply left with our own opinions? The biggest obstacle to finding truth today -- when it comes to those most important questions of faith, morals, and the meaning of life -- is relativism. Relativism is the idea that there is no universal, absolute truth but that truth differs from person to person. In reality, belief in moral and religious truths lead to real tolerance, while relativism leaves us with a false tolerance at best and intolerance at worst.

            Simply put, relativism is a flawed philosophy. The one "dogma" of relativism is that it is absolutely true for everyone that nothing is absolutely true for everyone. This claim cannot be true as it contradicts itself -- it is a self-contradicting proposition. Because it is impossible for relativism to be consistent, most people who subscribe to this flawed philosophy end up being "selective relativists," objective only about issues they feel strongly about.   

The seduction of relativism is dangerous for numerous reasons. Relativism robs us of a sense of meaning. In the words of Pope Benedict to teens and young adults at World Youth Day 2008, "A spiritual desert is spreading: an interior emptiness, an unnamed fear, a quiet sense of despair." This emptiness is the inevitable result of relativism, which separates us from life's most profound realities. Many relativists -- driven by an innate and inescapable need to live for something -- come up with shallow conclusions about life's meaning. Others invent more profound purposes for themselves. Regardless of whether these purposes are deep or shallow, the relativist must admit he has not discovered the meaning of life but rather has created his own. Lack of a firm sense of purpose leads one either to despair or to the desperate attempt to avoid life's most important questions through endless distractions.   

Relativism leaves us with no criterion for moral decision-making other than personal taste. It leaves us with no objective truths to govern our behavior. The moral compass of a relativist has nowhere to point but to himself. The false assumption that relativism excuses us from living according to certain moral guidelines is one reason this philosophy has become so popular -- and is also why it is so hard for many to part with.

            Relativism deprives children of needed formation. It is dangerous to assume we no longer must encourage young people to find and conform to truth. When we offer our children acceptance without guidance or teach ethics without reference to truth, far from setting them free, we are morally abandoning them. Love without truth -- and truth without love -- is a unique form of cruelty.    

            Relativism separates us from one another. It isn't just blood relationships but rather ideals, principles, and traditions that unite a people and create a nation. When people rally around something bigger than themselves, they experience unity.  Relativism removes the notion that we need to conform to a reality bigger than our own opinions, values, and preferences. Pope Emeritus Benedict said, "Under the semblance of freedom, relativism becomes a prison for each one, for it separates people from one another, locking each person into his or her own ego."   

            Relativism destroys authentic diversity.  A world where individuals openly and honestly disagree is diverse.  A world that mandates a false sense of unity through conformity to relativism -- and accuses people of bigotry for disagreeing with others -- is far from diverse. True diversity is when we can strongly disagree with respect and charity. 

            Relativism undermines the right to life. When a society acknowledges human rights are based on objective principles like the dignity of the human person and natural law, those rights are secure. But a relativistic society does not recognize moral assertions as objective facts and thus leaves these rights on shaky ground. In this situation, rights come to be regarded as favors granted by the state or by a majority vote. No rights are safe when the right to life is not. Tragically, we are doing things today that humanity would have found repulsive until just a generation ago.  When relativism reigns, we see a return to the survival of the fittest where life at its weakest is no longer safe, and human rights are no longer absolute.

            Relativism makes it easy for those in authority to manipulate others. The Founding Fathers of the United States saw their rights as "inalienable" -- moral facts firmly founded in man's very nature. They saw that a person's inherent dignity demanded self-governance. They were certain enough about their rights to be willing to die for them. In the words of Edmund Burke, "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." We can sadly see that relativism has produced a society of "do-nothings" in the face of moral evils.       

            Relativism puts the freedom of speech under attack. The relativist world equates moral decisions and religious creeds with personal sentiments lacking objectivity. As a result, debating the validity of someone else's claims is often perceived as a nasty personal attack and, at worst, labeled as an illegal form of "hate speech." We are losing our ability to intelligently debate the most important things. And worse, it is becoming ever more dangerous to do so. 

            Relativism destroys faith. If, as relativism would have us believe, God is someone or something each person creates -- rather than someone we discover or someone who seeks us out -- then He is no more real than a creation of our imagination.  Coming to know, love, and follow the living God is the goal of faith. Such a relationship is impossible if God is not viewed as a Being who is independent of the believer's imagination. 

Tolerance is the one virtue a relativist society seems to value. Purity, piety, temperance, wisdom and courage are all optional.  Tolerance is laudable if we all know what tolerance truly is. Relativists seem to think tolerance means not strongly disagreeing with anyone on moral or religious issues. In other words, what was once previously called disagreement is now often labeled intolerance -- or worse.  Recent history has shown that relativists can be more intolerant than those who believe in absolute truth. Disagreeing and speaking out is not intolerant. Fining those you disagree with, threatening to force them to act against their conscience, and banning all signs or expressions of their beliefs from the public square is intolerant. The more political power relativists gain, the less they tend to tolerate those with whom they disagree.

            Despite the attempts of most history text books to reduce the historical contribution of Christianity to the Crusades and the Inquisition, tolerance and human rights grew from within the Christian community, even if this wasn't always perfectly lived out. Christian society when true to its ideals puts mankind first and ensures that technology, art, science, government, and education serve man, not the other way around. This recognition of the preeminence of man's place in the universe and of the dignity of each individual is the basis of true tolerance. 

            We can expect that those of us who are not relativists will continue to be labeled as closed-minded. But close-minded is merely a negative way of saying convinced. In the words of G.K. Chesterton, "The object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid." It is a good thing to "close your mind" once you find something worth closing it on. It smacks of pride to claim to create your own truth and to reduce revelations from God or nature to the level of individual opinion. Those who believe in objective truth have the humility to seek the truth and to attempt to conform themselves to it when they find it. It is hard to conceive of a more prideful approach to philosophy and theology than relativism.

            Moral realism -- a recognition that natural law dictates ethical principles we all should live by -- wasn't concocted by religious leaders; it is in our DNA. Even young children have an innate sense of right and wrong, a sense of fair and unfair that is simply part of the ”shoulds” or “should-nots.”Relativists see this as an unnatural way of thinking which must be carefully overcome through indoctrination by the intellectual elite, or forced on us by an oversized government that threatens citizens with penalties for making an ethical claim for a principal it has labeled as bigotry.   

            When Pontius Pilate asked Jesus, "What is truth?" he was looking into the face of the One who said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life."  He did not say, "I am a way, an opinion, and a lifestyle." 

            In man there is an inextinguishable yearning for the infinite. Only the God Himself who became finite in order to open our finiteness and lead us to the breadth of His infiniteness can respond to the questions of our being. As Archbishop Charles Chaput recently said, “We were made for God. And material answers to questions of the soul can never be more than a narcotic. The proof is all around us. So much of the suffering in modern American life – we see it every day – can be traced to our misdirected desires, and the distractions we use to feed them. We look for joy and purpose in things that can never give us either.”

Patricia Johnson

 

(Many thanks to the wisdom of Bl. John Paul II, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, Cardinal Raymond Burke, Archbishop Charles Chaput, G.K. Chesterton, and especially to Christ Stefanick for his many insights from “Absolute Relativism: The New Dictatorship and What to Do About It)
              


The Real Heroes of Sidewalk Counselors

 

A “Sidewalk Counselor” is a person who voluntarily stands on the sidewalk outside an abortion facility and tries tochange the mind of a woman coming in for an abortion, thereby saving the life of her child. Unfortunately, by the time she has decided to have an abortion, she has already killed her child in her mind. The counselor must concentrate on the woman and determine how she can be helped. Also, more often than not, a man has influenced her decision,sometimes pushing or dragging the woman into the facility.

            Occasionally, a young girl is dragged in by a family member, usually the mother.

In all situations the counselor must offer help, not condemnation. If the woman refuses help they will pray for her.Even if she has the abortion, the counselor will offer healing, such as information about Project Rachel as she is leaving.

This work is anything but easy. A counselor should be trained and have support from at least one other counselor and/or “prayer warrior.” Some women and the men accompanying them can be very agressive when going into an abortion facility.When abortion-intent women refuse to listen and disdain the help the counselor offers, it is discouraging and depressing. In some cases, it is nearly impossible to talk to a woman if the abortion facility is located in a complex of buildings on private property. The counselors are not barred from the entrance an unable to communicate with the clients. In this case, signs are used in the hope thedriver will stop and accept some literature orlisten to the counselor.

            In some cases with good counseling and prayer the counselor will have a “save.” The definition of a “save” is when a counselor knowingly turns around a woman who has come in for an abortion. What is “saved” is a baby when a counselor can confirm he/she has persuaded an abortion-minded woman to choose life for her baby This may be accomplished even before the woman gets out of her car or it may be after a woman has listened to the counselor, entered the abortion clinic, changed her mind and come out.  Or more often a woman will leave after listening to a counselorand receiving some supportive information as to where she can obtain help if needed.She may leave with a baby gift from the counselor. Some counselors present a pair of baby booties,a baby blanketor other items.

            The rewards of sidewalk counseling can be great at a facility where one is able to communicate with the woman from the time she approaches the facility until she enters,andone does not have the interference of abortion facility escorts whom we call “Deathscorts.”

            At the abortion facility where I counsel in Hagerstown MD,we have an average of one save per week. We may go for weeks without a save;then have three or four saves in one day. The rewards are unparalleled but difficult to describe. Usually the woman is very happy she has made the right decision. We have had women enter the facility and come out 30 minutes later with tears of joy running down their cheeks as they tell us they have changed their minds. One woman I counseled on the sidewalk continued  into the facility for the abortion but came out an hour later weeping with joy, ran up and gave me a big hug, Longtime counselor Dick Retta had a save who brought a birthday cake to all of the counseloron the baby’s birthday. Once,a women sent a photo of her newborn baby to my cell phone an hour after the baby was born – around midnight.

            Another, less obvious blessing of sidewalk counseling with other devoted Christian counselors is the camaraderie over the years. It is hard to explain. What may compare is the experience on the front lines in combat where men often risk and even give their lives for a fellow soldier. 

            The more frequent motivationcomes from seeing the “saved” baby when the happy parents bring their baby or a picture and tell us the baby was saved because of a certain counselor or because they saw us in front of the clinic and decided not to go in.

            These are all priceless moments that energize and motivate us and help us through the inevitable sad days.

My friend, Dick Retta,and I began sidewalk counseling nearly 15 years ago at an abortion facility off Connecticut Avenue in Silver Spring MD. I started working in the pro-life movement when I saw Bill Luksic standing by himself,holding a sign next to the oncoming traffic down Connecticut Avenue-- a main thoroughfare a block from the abortion facility.I felt I had to stand with him as it was not too safe for anyone to be there alone. Dick started soon after and unexpectedly,it was not too long before the facility closed down. We all moved on to other abortion clinics including the Hillcrest clinic just inside the DC limits. That facilityalso closed downwithin months. Wewent to other clinics; however I eventually moved to WV. During this time period Bill, Dick, myself and others received sidewalk counseling training from MonsignorReilly’s very famous and successful sidewalk counseling group from New York.Dick took on more and more pro-life work. He became very good at sidewalk counseling and has taught classes for other counselors.

At a recent Respect Life Dinner, the three of us along with several others were publically recognized with very kind words for our work as sidewalk counselors.  Dick has a fantastic record with over 500 saves to his name. He puts in three very intense days a week at Planned Parenthood in Washington DC. I have been fortunate to be able to counsel at a facility in Maryland where we have great access to the clients coming into the abortion facility.  Bill is not so fortunate. He counsels at an abortion facility at Jackson Place in Rockville MD within a group of office condos on private property where he does not have access. He hasbeenstopped by the police for trespassing. The counselors are lucky to have one save a month.Bill, in addition to counseling Saturday mornings, comes back in the late morning and often stays another four to five hours offering Project Rachel literature to the women who have had abortions.  These women have nowhere else to turn for assistance with their emotional and spiritual needs resulting from abortion.  Bill and the other counselors with him are the ones I call the “hero sidewalk counselors.” To go for such along time without the rewards of seeing a woman change her mind or a baby saved is extremely discouraging.

Bill’s main advantage at that facility is being on an extremely busy streetwhere the presence of the sidewalk counselorsis a big influence on the thousands of peoplewho see him witnessing for Christ.  We have seennumerous saves at other facilities because women drove past the abortion facility and observed pro-lifers praying in front.There have been a number of saves from pro-life billboards and graphic pictures.

At one time at our facility a woman came into the clinic but would not talk to anyone. She came out 30 minutes later saying she could not go through with the abortion because she had seen a man praying the rosary just before she entered the facility. Prayer Warriors are important – not only for their prayers, but forwitnessing as Christians against abortion.

Bill and his group are no doubt saving babies’ lives but they do not experience the joy of seeing their results. It is very difficult to continue this effort without having anunwavering Christian faith and strong determination. Bill has been doing this for two decades and has been much more productive than he realizes. Dick and I would not be out there if not for Bill. There would not be the babies saved that he has seen, and there would not be the hundreds of babies saved he has not seen.

            To put this difficulty of counseling into focus, several of us continue to question why we cannot recruit more counselors even at a relatively accessible abortion facility. Recently, while at the facility and after all of the women had entered, I saton a folding chair, pulled out a rosary and started praying for the women and the babies. As I came to the second mystery one of the street people came along. I had met him before; he is a local. He asked me, “You have been praying here for years, why has God not answered your prayers? Why have they not closed down this abortuary?” I gave him a standard answer such as God acts in his time frame and not ours, but I kept thinking about it later.

            At Mass, a few days later, we heard the Biblical story of Abraham trying to bargain with God to save Sodom and Gomorrah from being destroyed.Abraham negotiated with God, asking Him to spare the cities if there were only ten righteous people. It happened that Lot and his family lived in Sodom, Abraham’s nephew took them to his home just before God destroyed the Sodomites.(Genesis 19:5, NIV).

I saw the relationship tothe number of righteous people (counselors and prayer warriors) here at the abortion facility serving a population of nearly 200,000 people. In this area there are dozens of churches including a Catholic church with 1500 parishioners only a block from the abortion facility. Out of these 200,000 people there are only about a dozen counselors and prayer warriors who come occasionally to the facility (only two or three come on a regular basis). Comparing this with the four Lot family members in two small cities it appears our percentages are even lower than Sodom and Gomorrah.

Granted, there are those going to work, working, at home with children, the sick and those otherwise occupied; however, I am not surprised God does not answer our prayers. If we had even the terribly low percentages of Sodom and Gomorrah we would have 500 people in front of the abortion facility and we would close the business down immediately. Let us all pray that we will have more pro-life participation. 

            The following is a prayer many of us use during our sidewalk counseling work: Teach us good Lord, to serve Thee as Thou deserves; to give and not to count the cost; to fight and not to heed the wounds; to toil and not to seek for rest; to labor and not to ask for any reward, save that of knowing that we did Thy will. Amen.

            We need more people with the deep Christian faith and strong determination of Bill Luksic and the other hero counselors and prayer warriors. God Bless you guys and gals.

 

Jim Fritz.

 

 

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