Our Catholic moment — and our BLA

Widowed at 58, my grandmother had enough in savings to spend her remaining years in peace and quiet. But the five-foot tall daughter of Dutch immigrants chose a different path.

Among other new commitments, she decided to get trained as a crisis pregnancy counselor and licensed as a foster parent. Then over the next decade she opened her home to 46 young pregnant women who brought their babies to term under her roof. Herself a victim in her youth of physical abuse by an alcoholic father, Grammie channeled her prodigious energy into creating a safe harbor for young women, many of whom fled desperate situations.

I grew up next door to this woman of faith. Every week I saw her take calls on the crisis hotline, counsel women on the precipice of a life-or-death decision, and care for whomever was living with her at the time. I watched her write a book entitled Pregnant and Alone: How You Can Help, which inspired others to open their hearts. The light of Christ triumphed in her life.

Grammie’s faith-in-action came to mind recently when I was talking to a friend about the 2019 Bishop’s Lenten Appeal (BLA), “Together in the Light of Christ.”

For Catholics today, the chips are down. It’s easy to see darkness in our world, our nation, and in our church. As a parent reading most news today, I find myself less “Together in the Light of Christ” and more “Alone in the Darkness of my Thoughts.”

But I wonder.

How would my life be different now if Grammie had succumbed to despair? And I wonder, what if my fellow parishioners — who in 2013 helped to build our $15-million-dollar church — had thrown in the towel after the 2002 church scandals? If they had, my kids would still be worshipping in a cement-block, windowless parish center, and not in the reverent and beautiful sanctuary where our hearts lift so easily to God.

And what if Catholics in our diocese, disheartened by the abuse crisis, had quit their regular prayer vigils outside of the abortion facility on Forestwood Lane in Manassas? Then I wonder where the women who now in that same building have access to a state-of-the-art ultrasound — not to mention the hundreds of individuals who receive free medical care — in Catholic Charities’ Mother of Mercy Free Medical Clinic would be?

The Mother of Mercy vanquishes death. Light triumphs over darkness.

Today, what if Catholics choose disengagement? Then 376 pregnant women — the number helped just last year thanks to the BLA funding of Gabriel Project — would not have a listening ear, pre- and postnatal care, and a toll-free helpline in our diocese. Where would we propose these women go? 

Mindful of these women and so many individuals near us who live in a world of hurt, now is the time to take on more responsibility, not less—to give until it hurts. Stepping up requires a shift from “I’m a member” to “I’m a disciple”; from asking “what’s in it for me?” to “how can I serve?”; from “Catholic lite” to full ownership of the church’s teaching; from “bowling alone” Catholicism to the joy of fellowship. 

Stepping up also means taking the BLA seriously.

We need to expect transparency of ourselves, and of our church. The diocese continues to offer just that: every dollar of the BLA is accounted for and on a mission (arlingtondiocese.org/bishops-lenten-appeal, including a new video), supporting ministries like Catholic Charities, seminarian education, Young Adult Ministries, religious vocation discernment, and the diocesan Office of Marriage, Family and Respect Life.

At parishes all over the diocese I see walls and plaques listing the names of ordinary men and women who stepped forward decades ago to choose the light of Christ. These are the names of good people who tightened their belts and made sacrifices, who built parishes and funded transformative ministries and put the church on the map in the northern tier of Virginia. Our lives are immeasurably better because of these spiritual forebears, in ways we will never fully grasp this side of heaven. 

This Lent, take a bold step into the light. Be a participant in and ambassador for the fund which sends a powerful ripple-effect of goodness out in every direction. Stand together in the light of Christ. “As we participate in the BLA,” Bishop Burbidge invites us, “each of us can become a light of hope to the hopeless, a gleam of faith to the faithless, and a special instrument of God’s love and mercy for which so many hunger.”

Johnson is diocesan director of evangelization.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2019