March 14, 2014

Bishop’s talk, father’s love highlight annual Sanctity of Life Dinner in Indianapolis

Cooper Featherling, 12-weeks-old, is held by a member of Annunciation Parish in Brazil. Cooper’s mother, Lindsay Featherling, also of Annunciation Parish, brought her infant son to the Sanctity of Life Dinner on March 6 in Indianapolis. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

Cooper Featherling, 12-weeks-old, is held by a member of Annunciation Parish in Brazil. Cooper’s mother, Lindsay Featherling, also of Annunciation Parish, brought her infant son to the Sanctity of Life Dinner on March 6 in Indianapolis. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

By Natalie Hoefer

Early Church fathers, the rosary and the Roman feast of the sun gods—they form an unlikely mix to comprise the keynote address at a pro-life dinner.

But from those topics, Bishop Christopher J. Coyne, vicar general, wove an interesting, historical and powerful pro-life message to complement the cause of the Sanctity of Life Dinner held in Indianapolis on March 6. The annual event celebrates and supports the works of the Office of Pro-Life and Family Life. (Related: Listen to the presentation)

Before Bishop Coyne spoke, he and Rebecca Niemerg, director of the office, presented the Sanctity of Life Award to this year’s winner, Michael Valesco, the first Indiana Knights of Columbus state pro-life director.

In her introduction of Valesco, Niemerg spoke of three components necessary to carrying out the Church’s mission to build a culture of life.

“First is a deep conviction of our own dignity as a person made in the image and likeness of God,” she said.

“Second is a profound hope in Jesus Christ, and third is a heart of gratitude.”

Valseco “embodies these three characteristics,” said Niemerg.

“I wasn’t always passionate about pro-life,” Valesco told The Criterion in a private interview. “I guess I became pro-life when I became a dad, when I first held my son.” Valesco and his wife, Alicia, members of St. Joseph the Worker Parish in Gary, Ind., in the Gary Diocese, have five children including one deceased son, and five grandchildren.

Since taking the role of pro-life director for the Indiana Knights of Columbus state council in 2009, Valesco has among other efforts, organized trips to the annual March for Life in Washington, and established a fund into which each Knights of Columbus council donates a certain amount of money for pro-life efforts. As a result of the contributions, the state council can now supply up to seven ultrasound machines throughout the state.

Valesco told The Criterion that he would accept the award in recognition of “the good works of all of the 133,000 Knights in Indiana.”

After receiving the award from Niemerg and Bishop Coyne, Valesco embraced his wife of 47 years, then showed the award to his 95-year-old mother, June.

Bishop Coyne began his keynote address with a look at the rosary as a pro-life tool that goes beyond just prayer.

“We can use the rosary as a means of teaching about the Gospel of Life, in particular with the Joyful Mysteries,” he explained. “The first three—the Annunciation, the Visitation and the Nativity—each of those in many ways speaks to the life in the womb, the life of God made manifest in the womb.

“It’s important for us to be able to talk about why the Church teaches what it teaches, and to show that some of the things we believe are not a recent innovation, but in fact have been part of our faith from the very beginning.

“If I were to ask you how come Christmas is celebrated on Dec. 25,” he said, many would respond that it arose from the Church adapting the pagan Roman festival of the sun gods, “ … and as the light begins to return, we say that the Light of God came into the world.

“That’s been the operative theory up until about 50-60 years ago,” Bishop Coyne explained.

Then he offered a more recent theory proposed by Church scholars.

Drawing upon translations of ancient texts, scholars have discovered “that there was an early tradition in the Church that held that the day that Christ left this world, Good Friday, is actually the same day that he entered this life [33 years prior], the day that he was conceived in the womb,” said the bishop.

While stating there were other examples supporting this theory, Bishop Coyne quoted from the fourth-century doctor of the Church, St. Augustine.

“St. Augustine, in one of his teachings, writes, ‘For Jesus is believed to have been conceived on the 25th day of March, upon which day he also suffered. So the womb of the virgin in which he was conceived, where no one of mortals was begotten before, corresponds to the new grave in which he was buried, wherein was never man laid, neither before him nor since. But he was born, according to tradition, on Dec. 25th.’

“It’s interesting to think that perhaps the day of Jesus’ birth is not so random as something connected with the ancient Roman sun gods,” Bishop Coyne said, “but goes back to an even more ancient tradition that he was conceived in the womb on the day that he died on the cross 33 years later.”

That means, said the bishop, “that the ancient Church understood clearly that the in-breaking of salvation was not when Christ was born in the manger, but when he was conceived in the womb, and that everything that made him Jesus Christ, Son of God and Son of Man, was found in the womb of Mary that day” rather than the day of his birth.

“So when we say the life of that person, of that human being, is in the womb of the woman from the very moment of conception, we’re not relying on a recent understanding—it goes back 2,000 years ago to the early Church that understood the in-breaking of God the Son was at that moment,” Bishop Coyne said.

As the bishop closed his address to nearly 400 members from around the archdiocese—from the deaneries of Terre Haute to Bloomington to New Albany, and even from as far away as the Tell City Deanery, a three-hour drive from Indianapolis—he quoted Blessed John Paul II.

“ ‘This is no time to be ashamed of the Gospel. It is a time to preach it from the rooftops. Do not be afraid to break out of the comfortable and routine modes of living in order to take up the challenge of making Christ known in the modern world.’ ” †

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