By Fr. Don Braukmann / Retired Priest of the Diocese of Crookston
I will be retiring from writing this column in October. Eighteen months ago, I shared with you I had been diagnosed with ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis), also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. Last summer (July 1, 2018) I retired from parish ministry and have been living in Neilson Place, a nursing home in Bemidji, since this past spring. The disease is slowly paralyzing my body and will end my earthly life in the coming months.
I have been writing in OND most of my 33 years as a priest. There are a lot of things on my mind as I consider these final four columns.
This issue I want to take the time to say thank you to a bunch of folks. First, to Bishop Emeritus Victor Balke who ordained me and gave me permission to write. His consistent defense of human life at all stages was and remains an inspiration. Thank you, too, to Bishop Michael Hoeppner who has allowed me to continue writing. His ministry of proclaiming the truth of the Gospel to a seemingly deaf world is so desperately needed.
Thank you to the OND staff, from various editors to proofreaders over the years. Your patience was (and is) greatly appreciated!
I want to thank all those who allowed me to step into their lives and put that experience into print. I hope I did justice to your powerful faith which touched me deeply.
Finally, thank you to you, the readers, for letting me into your homes with each issue. I know some of you were not always appreciative of what I wrote but thank you for taking up the conversation. I am grateful for the fact that I created discussion around the many life issues in our world, which is the goal of a column such as this — to create honest discussion, something our culture can rarely do these days.
I shared with you in the past how my parents influenced my interest in the political arena and specifically in the prolife (womb to tomb) movement. I remember well, in the mid-1970s, when Dad felt he had to leave the Democratic Party because of its stand on abortion. Dad’s political heroes at the time let him down. To be blunt, I am glad Dad is not here to witness the disappearance of the Republican Party he had grown to trust. His German anger would certainly flare up watching and hearing the childish political discourse spewing from all sides today. Both Mom and Dad believed hearts had to change before laws could. They were right. It starts in the Oval Office.
Pope Saint Paul VI sat in the Chair of Peter from 1963 to 1978. He courageously reinforced the foundation of Catholic moral teaching on life. He paid a heavy price outside and inside the Church. He shared with friends how he felt he wore a crown of thorns each night when his head hit the pillow, so great was the dissension.
When he penned Humanae Vitae, his encyclical on life, he made it clear the Catholic Church was not going to bail on issues of sexuality as other denominations had done. Humanae Vitae, combined with his consistent writings on peace and justice, stirred the political and moral pot with the truth of the Gospel.
He said: “For peace is not simply the absence of warfare, based on a precarious balance of power; it is fashioned by efforts directed day after day toward the establishment of the ordered universe willed by God, with a more perfect form of justice among humanity.” And, in his prophetic wisdom, he also said: “Technological society has succeeded in multiplying the opportunities for pleasure, but it has great difficulty in generating joy.”
Then, there is Mother Teresa, a saint who I quoted often over the years.
Imagine the setting when she rose to accept the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979. She stood before the world in her tiny frame and invited everyone present to pray together the Prayer of St. Francis. In her speech she spoke of how Mary, after Gabriel’s visit, had to spread the Good News by visiting her cousin Elizabeth: “As soon as Jesus came into her life, Mary immediately went in haste to share the news. As she came into the house of her cousin, the child, the unborn child, the child in the womb of Elizabeth, leapt with joy! He was that little unborn child who was the first messenger of peace.”
She then spoke of all the children of the world who are dying of hunger and disease but concluded by saying: “…but millions are dying deliberately by the will of the mother. And this is what is the greatest destroyer of peace today. Because if a mother can kill her own child, what is left for me to kill you and you to kill me? There is nothing between.”
I praise and thank God for the men and women who have echoed the prolife message in so many ways. I am grateful I could be a part of the chorus.