Christmas is a time of miracles and a time of gifts. As we celebrate the greatest of all miracles and gifts, that of God becoming a child to save us, it can also be a time to recognize modern miracles, especially the miracle of God’s love working in people’s hearts. In this lesson we will highlight two people who have contributed to some “modern miracles.” They have allowed God’s love to inspire and strengthen their efforts to defend the precious gift of human life.
Stephanie hoffmeier: adoleScent with an attitude … for life
Two-tone hair, black T-shirt with matching fingernails, adolescent attitude … this could describe any one of a million teenagers today. Who it describes in this instance is sixteen-year-old Stephanie Hoffmeier. The student from Colonial Forge High School in Stafford, Virginia, is not just another rebellious teen, however. She wants to do something for God, by helping to overcome the injustice of abortion.
What makes Stephanie so different from other teens her age is her unstoppable conviction. Last academic year, the practicing Baptist filled out the necessary paperwork to begin the first pro-life student organization in the local public high schools. Asked why she would take on such a task, Stephanie responded,“God has laid this on my heart….[Abortion] is a really relevant issue to teenagers today.”
making Space for life, deSpite the obStacleS
The Stafford school system initially denied Stephanie’s application, noting that a pro-life club was not connected to any school “curriculum.” However, Stephanie knew that the Key Club, the Young Republicans, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and other groups were already active in her school. She felt this denial by the school board was unfair, so she did what has often been done by people who think their rights have been ignored – she sought out a lawyer.
Her attorney, David Courtman, a lawyer for the Alliance Defense Fund, determined that the best way to get the school system to take Stephanie seriously was to threaten it with a lawsuit.
The Alliance Defense Fund believed that Stephaniehad a precedent-setting case. As stated on her application, the goal of her club was “to educate people about the biggest holocaust that is going on right here in the United States. To come together and pray to end abortion. To be a voice for my generation and a voice for those who cannot speak for themselves.” Stephanie explained that hers would be a “Christcentered club” whose meetings would begin with prayer and devotion. Any student would be welcome to attend.
miSunderStanding of Separation of church and State
Pro-life issues are more than just religious issues. They are human rights issues. Nevertheless, when religion enters into a decision about public schools or government institutions it often leads to a common misrepresentation of the U.S. Constitution. The Constitution prohibits Congress from establishing a national religion or showing a preference for one religion over another, but it does not restrict the rights of citizens to express their faith and values in public. On the contrary, the Constitution upholds this right. In Stephanie’s instance, her lawsuit might protect the rights of others in the future. Catholics need to be prepared to work with leaders such as Stephanie to promote the common good of society, especially in regards to the rights of the unborn.
fruitS of faith and perSeverance
Stephanie’s persistence in this endeavor can be traced back to her faith.“I prayed for a really long time for God to use me in my school,” she said. The teen did not give up, even when facing opposition, because she knew she was not doing anything wrong. She stood her ground, knowing that the law was behind her. She worked against injustice in a mature way.
Faced with Stephanie’s legal challenge, the Stafford school system recently recognized her pro-life club. Her efforts are already paying off; fellow students are joining her club. Thus, Stephanie is helping to educate students around her. She is convincing others of the truth of human life. Through her club, Stephanie is making a difference. It is her small gift to Christ.
Dr. Markus Grompe: A scientist working for life
Recently another victory for life was won. The victory confirmed the efforts of a Catholic scientist who found himself almost alone among his peers in his insistence on respect for life.
Dr. Markus Grompe is in an elite class of about thirty of the most qualified experts in the world on stem cell research. He is director of the Oregon Stem Cell Center and a member of the board of the prestigiousInternational Society for Stem Cell Research. He has been consulted by such persons as President
Bush on stem cell research.
Dr. Grompe is also a fervent Catholic. His involvement in stem cell research comes from his love of children. He is a practicing pediatrician who decided to go into biochemical genetics and stem cell biology because he saw children who were suffering from genetic diseases.
As a Catholic and as a compassionate physician, Dr. Grompe has always been convinced that scientific research should never harm any human being, including tiny embryos. He wants to find cures for children’s diseases that can be done even at the initials stages of life. But he also knows that the ends do not justify the means; you cannot harm or kill an embryo so that other children can benefit. Unfortunately, few of his colleagues agreed with him.
Dr. Grompe admits that being a pro-life stem cell scientist has been“tough going.”He explains,“There aren’t many people [pro-life stem cell scientists] out there. The way to be heard is to be successful in science. That’s the only reason I have a voice. If I had my moral convictions but didn’t do prominent research in my area, I would have no impact.”
The doctor was often amazed that such intelligent people could show such moral blindness. While continuing to work with integrity and professionalism, Dr. Grompe published papers in prestigious scientific journals advocatingrespect for the human embryo.
a breakthrough reaffirmS life
Then, in November, it was announced that two of his colleagues, Professor Shinya Yamanaka at Kyoto University in Japan and Professor James Thomson of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, found an ethical way to “reprogram”adult skin cells into “pluripotent” stem cells. This meant that scientists would not have to use or kill human embryos to get pluripotent stem cells.
Pluripotent cells hold the promise of delivering cures for many diseases. Up to this point, most scientists thought that the only way to produce such cells would be by dissecting and killing human embryos. This latest development is abreakthrough for pro-life researchers and very good news.
a fruit of perSiStence
If it hadn’t been for persistent voices such as those of Dr. Grompe, this method of stem cell research would not have been so aggressively pursued as a viable alternative to cloning. In fact, it was known among the top stem cell scientists that Dr. Grompe was already pursuing “reprogramming” adult stem cells in his lab at the Oregon Stem Cell Center.
Dr. Grompe was very happy about the research breakthrough. In newspapers and scientific journals, he drew attention to the news.“I think this is really what we have been dreaming about,” he told the National Catholic Register.
Asked by Our Faith In Action if his efforts had helped other stem cell scientists think more deeply about the dignity of human life,Dr.Grompe replied,“Definitely. But I haven’t converted anyone to the Catholic faith yet. Just made themthink.”
One of the scientists who led this breakthrough, Dr. James Thomson, recently admitted he always had ethical qualms about the destruction of human embryos, even though he had been doing it in the past.“If human embryonic stem cell research does not make you at least a little bit uncomfortable,” Dr. Thomson told The New York Times after his breakthrough,“you have not thought about it enough.”
much Still to be done
There is still much to be done to build respect for the dignity of life, and Christmas can be a special time to gain strength and confidence for our efforts. Christmas reminds us that God sees each human being, no matter how weak and small, as a great gift. As we kneel to adore the Christ Child in the manger this Christmas, let us renew our promise to love him and to love all our brothers and sisters in him. He has sacrificed himself to save us and bring us love. We can do nothing less. He is here to help us.
“…and on entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother. They prostrated themselves and did him homage. Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.”
“Then he said to them, ‘Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.’”
“Since, then, we have the same spirit of faith, according to what is written, ‘I believed, therefore I spoke,’ we too believe and therefore speak.”
“Allow me to repeat this to you tonight: if you stay one with Christ, each of you can do great things. That is why, dear friends, you should not be afraid to dream with open eyes about great plans for good, and you should not allow yourselves to be discouraged by difficulties. Christ has confidence in you and he wants you to realize each of your noble dreams for authentic happiness. Nothing is impossible for whoever trusts in God and entrusts himself to him.”
– Pope Benedict XVI, Loreto, Italy, Sept 1, 2007
“But, I ask you, is it better to be resigned to a life without ideals... or rather, …to seek the truth, goodness, justice, working for a world that reflects the beauty of God, even at the cost of facing the trials it may involve?”
– Pope John Paul II, WorldYouth Day XII
2271: God, the Lord of life, has entrusted to men the noble mission of safeguarding life, and men must carry it out in a manner worthy of themselves. Life must be protected with the utmost care from the moment of conception.
2294: Science and technology by their very nature require unconditional respect for fundamental moral criteria. They must be at the service of the human person, of his inalienable rights, of his true and integral good, in conformity with the plan and the will of God.
2044: In order that the message of salvation can show the power of its truth and radiance before men, it must be authenticated by the witness of the life of Christians.
Catholic Pioneer of Genetic Research
dr. Jerome leJeune (1926–1994)
This French doctor wanted to help children with Down Syndrome. When he began his research very little was known about genetics or about the cause of this disability. He discovered the gene that causes Down Syndrome: Trisomy 21. His work was a breakthrough for modern genetics and won him many awards. In spite of his fame and besides his scientific research in the laboratory, he always continued working as a simple physician caring for children with this disability. He always referred to them as his special friends. Dr. Lejeune was horrified that his work in prenatal diagnosis caused people to abort children with health challenges. He spoke out clearly in scientific meetings and in popular media about the dignity of life. He sometimes suffered criticism for his clear pro-life stance, but he persevered in his research and work as a doctor. He became a close friend of Pope John Paul II and served as member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. When John Paul II created the Pontifical Academy of Life, he appointed Dr. Lejeune as its first president.
Protectors of God’s Greatest Gift
mary and JoSeph
Christmas is a special reminder of the faith and love of Mary and Joseph. They were entrusted with protecting a new life, a life that would quietly change all human history. Both had to face hardships in accepting this child, but they understood clearly that they had been given a gift, the greatest gift of God to man. They realized that they had a mission to protect and nourish Jesus. Perhaps the circumstances of Christ’s birth were hard and austere, but their faith brought warmth and love to that place. Christ was well received by Mary and Joseph. Through them, Christ reminds us that he needs a place in our heart and life as well.
Alternative -providing or being a choice between two or among more than two things
Biochemical -dealing with chemistry of living things, especially the chemistry of human life
Biology -the science that deals with the origin, history, physical characteristics, life processes, habits, etc., of living organisms, such as plants and animals
Breakthrough -a strikingly important advance or discovery
Compassion -a feeling of sympathy for the distress of others, with the desire to help them
Confidence -firm belief; trust; reliance
Conviction -a strong belief
Convincing -causing one to feel sure or to believe or agree; persuading as by evidence
Curriculum -all of the courses, collectively, offered in a school, college, etc., or in a particular subject
Dignity -the quality or state of being worthy of esteem or respect, inherent nobility and worth
Educate -to train or develop the knowledge, teach; instruct
Elite -the group or part of a group selected or regarded as the finest, best, most distinguished, most powerful, etc.
Embryo -an animal or human being in the earliest stages of its development in the uterus or the egg; specifically in humans from conception to about the eighth week
Faith -trust in God and in his promises
Genetics -the branch of biology that deals with heredity and variation in similar or related animals and plants
Holocaust -great or total destruction of life
Human rights -rights, as the right to organize politically or worship freely, thought of as belonging inherently to each human being and not to be taken away or interfered with by arbitrary or repressive government action
Impact -to have an effect
Inspire -to have an animating effect upon; to influence or impel
Integrity -steadfast adherence to a strict moral or ethical code, the state of being unimpaired; soundness; the quality or condition of being whole or undivided; completeness
Love (as a human virtue) -a profoundly tender, passionate affection for another person; kindness, respect, and generosity towards others
Love (as a supernatural virtue) -love for God; love of others from God’s point of view
Mature -fully or highly developed, perfected, worked out, considered
Misrepresentation -to represent falsely; to give an untrue or misleading idea of
Moral -relating to, dealing with, or in accord with right and wrong
Pediatrician -a medical doctor who works with children; a specialist in the branch of medicine dealing with the development and care of infants and children and with the treatment of their diseases, illnesses, etc.
Perseverance -trying hard and continuously in spite of obstacles and difficulties
Persistence -the act of persisting; stubborn or enduring continuance
Pluripotent stem cells -cells capable of producing any tissue type in the human body
Precedent -an act, statement, legal decision, case, etc., that may serve as an example, reason, or justification for a later one
Prominent -widely and favorably known
Respect -to feel or show honor or esteem for; to hold in high regard; to consider or treat with deference or dutiful regard; to show consideration for
Right -that which a person has a just claim to; a privilege, etc., that belongs to a person by law, nature, or tradition
Sacrifice -forfeiture of something highly valued for the sake of one considered to have a greater value or claim
Stem cell -any of a number of rudimentary cells that replicate repeatedly, providing a continuous source of new cells that differentiate into specialized cells
Strength -moral power, firmness, or courage