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  • Miracle in Manassas

    Before I begin, let me tell you about my Christmas homily fantasy: The pope calls me, and asks me to provide a theme to be discussed in every sermon on earth on Christmas day. He notes that Mass attendance on Christmas is the highest of the year, and he is looking for a homily that will get the “Christmas and Easter” Catholics back in the pews the week after Christmas, and the week after that, and so on.

    This year, I have an answer for the pope (should he call). Every homilist on earth should discuss the Catholic Herald’s article, “Free medical clinic blessed in Manassas” (ACH 11/23-29/17).

    I have read C.S. Lewis, Bishop Fulton Sheen, St. (Mother) Teresa and St. Thomas Aquinas. Of course I have read much by my namesake, St. Francis De Sales. But I have never read a more precise summary of the impact of the Catholic faith on the world than this humble article in our diocesan newspaper. The sub-headline reads, “Former abortion clinic gets new lease on life for needy.”

    This beautiful article describes an authentic miracle: an abortion clinic is replaced by a free health clinic for our most vulnerable brothers and sisters. A place designed to end life is replaced by one to nurture life and health, among our neediest neighbors, including immigrants, the impoverished and underserved communities.

    Truly this is an authentic miracle. The children of our most needy neighbors will not only be born, they will be treated for free when illness strikes. It seems a double miracle.

    This incredible story reminds me of President John F. Kennedy’s speech at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin June 26, 1963. In that case — as now — a titanic struggle was underway between the forces of democracy, hope and the culture of life on one hand, and the forces of socialism, despair and the culture of death on the other. Berlin had been sealed entirely in 1961 — literally walled off — a solitary island of freedom in the East German slave-state. Kennedy intended to draw bright contrasts between the beliefs of the West and the practices of the Communists. He was determined to address forcefully the apologists for socialism in America and around the world.

    “There are many people in the world who really don’t understand, or say they don’t, what is the great issue between the free world and the Communist world,” Kennedy said. “Let them come to Berlin.

    “There are some who say Communism is the wave of the future,” he said. “Let them come to Berlin.”

    He concluded by saying, “And there are even a few who say that it is true that Communism is an evil system, but it permits us to make economic progress. Let them come to Berlin.”

    In our time, there are those who say the Catholic faith is a relic, a collection of superstitions, an irrelevancy in the new world order of atheism and resentment. I say, let them come to Manassas.

    In our time, there are those who say that abortion is no more a moral choice than choosing to get a tattoo or take the recycling bin to the curb. To them I say, let them come to Manassas.

    In our time, there are those who provide financial support to the abortion industry, while telling others this ghastly enterprise is in the health business. To them I say, let them come to Manassas.

    I have friends who provide material help to the Gabriel Project, the diocesan program to help young mothers in Manassas and across the diocese who have chosen life for their children. Yet, in our time, there are those who say the Catholic Church cares about pre-born life, but could care less about newborn life. To them I say, let them come to Manassas.

    President Kennedy ended his speech that day in 1963 with these words:

    “All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin. And therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words — Ich bin ein Berliner.” (I am a Berliner)

    In our time, all free men and women who cherish life, wherever on earth they might live, are honorary citizens of Manassas.

    Which brings me back to my long-awaited call from Pope Francis for my idea on the best topic for sermons on Christmas day. Every homilist on earth should tell the story about how the 21 counties and 70 parishes of the Diocese of Arlington came together to transform a former abortion mill into the Mother of Mercy Free Clinic. And they performed this miracle through prayer in a spirit of mercy and forgiveness for all. This is what the Catholic Church does.

    Tell Christmas Day churchgoers if they want to be part of something this divine, this transformative, this meaningful, this holy, this close to Christ — then they should join their fellow Catholics in the pews and in the community, week after week, throughout the year, every year. Shout it from the housetops — the Miracle of Manassas is real and the Catholic faithful helped make it happen.

    Kennedy was proud to be a Berliner. I have never been so proud to be a Catholic.

    Cumberland is a parishioner at St. Mary of Sorrows Church in Fairfax.

    © Arlington Catholic Herald 2021