Open Book: how a unique pro-life ministry got started

A recent interview for my blog Leaven for the Loaf (reblogged here on April 12) put me back in touch via email with Melissa Ohden, a woman who survived an attempted saline abortion some years ago. Our interview reminded me of her moving memoir You Carried Me (2018: Plough Publishing House), which I’ll be re-reading soon. She was adopted as an infant into a loving family. As an adult, she met her birth mother and learned the circumstances of the attempted abortion that was meant to claim her life. She writes without sensationalism, which makes her story more memorable. Ohden has established The Abortion Survivors Network, which has brought together a startling number of people who survived attempts to abort them. Beyond peer support and sharing stories, the Network serves as a resource for policymakers striving to ensure that born-alive abortion survivors are properly cared for. A remarkable woman, a remarkable ministry.

A book I chose for Lenten reading will follow me into the Easter season, as I’m reading it slowly and taking time to reflect on each section. I have Fulton Sheen’s Life of Christ (published c. 1954) in an old hardback edition, picked up can’t-remember-where quite awhile ago. This is the first time I’m giving it more than cursory attention. It’s become valued reading during my times of Adoration before the Blessed Sacrament. I needn’t be in a church to read it, of course. Sheen’s devotion and reverence for God are leavened by a down-to-earth gift for touching busy hearts.

I’ve reached the final pages of a thoroughly secular work of history that I’ve been chewing on for awhile: Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin (2005, Simon and Schuster). A part of the basis for the Spielberg film Lincoln, the book is not so much a biography of Abraham Lincoln as it is an account of a network of his relationships that had a profound bearing on the Civil War and thus American history. Goodwin writes with respect without resorting to hagiography. I’m fascinated to read about how the paths of a handful of intensely ambitious yet patriotic men happened to cross. Those paths eventually led to Lincoln’s Cabinet during the Civil War, where the rich broth of personalities required to preserve the Union kept the President busy.

#OpenBook is a monthly blog linkup by Carolyn Astfalk, featuring a roundup of bloggers and the books they’re exploring.

Open Book: Welcoming Spring

Welcoming spring, observing Lent: it’s a season of new books for me.

I often select a familiar devotional to read during Lent, and sure enough, there’s Fulton Sheen’s Life of Christ in this year’s rotation. I’ve added a work of fiction that’s a stretch for me on several counts: Silence by Shūsako Endō, first published in 1997, translated from Japanese by William Johnston. The story of a handful of Portuguese priests and the Japanese people they evangelized in the seventeenth century is painfully illuminating. What does it mean to be a missionary and an apostate (a word seldom heard in my neck of the woods)? What is Christian witness? How do Christian neophytes grow in faith – sometimes to astonishing degrees – when priests are scarce and persecution is everywhere? I’m still in the midst of the book, and already I know it will leave me with even more questions. It’s a beautiful work, understated rather then melodramatic, difficult but not obscure.

Book cover for "Silence" by Shusaku Endo

I’m loving the fresh look at Dorothy Day in a book by Kate Hennessy, her granddaughter, who writes like a dream. Dorothy Day: the World Will Be Saved by Beauty is subtitled “an intimate portrait of my grandmother.”

Book cover of "Dorothy Day: the World Will Be Saved by Beauty" by Kate Hennessy

I’m not sticking to spiritual fare this month. I’ve just finished Carl Bernsteins’s memoir Chasing History: A Kid In the Newsroom. Anyone of my generation will remember Bernstein’s journalistic partnership with Bob Woodward, but I know younger readers might not know of him. I recommend Chasing History to one and all, whether familiar with Bernstein or not. The book covers the first years of Bernstein’s professional life, beginning as a high school student who was much more interested in journalism than in classwork. He brings the now-defunct Washington Star newspaper to life for readers of this generation. He writes with a sharp eye for events and with affectionate memory for the pros who served as his mentors and co-workers. I read this for fun – and learned a thing or two while I was at it.

book cover of "Chasing History: A Kid in the Newsroom" by Carl Bernstein

#OpenBook is a monthly blog linkup by Carolyn Astfalk, featuring a roundup of bloggers and the books they’re exploring.

Open Book: Waugh on Campion

photo of shelves of books

This post appeared on the blog in a slightly different version in December 2016.

Evelyn Waugh, better known for his fiction, turned his hand to biography to celebrate St. Edmund Campion, Jesuit priest and English Elizabethan martyr. Waugh wrote in the Preface to 1935’s Saint Edmund Campion that he was not attempting a scholar’s approach to his subject.

All I have sought to do is to select incidents which strike a novelist as important and to put them into a narrative which I hope may prove readable. The facts are not in dispute so I have left the text unencumbered by notes or bibliography. It should  be read as a simple, perfectly true story of heroism and holiness.

When we think of English Catholic martyrs nowadays, I think most thoughts turn to St. Thomas More – a man worth remembering, to be sure. Campion more than holds in own in such company. His apologia to the Queen’s Privy Council as he was undergoing persecution is provided by Waugh as a final chapter, too important to be designated an appendix. These are Campion’s own words, written as he knew his execution by the anti-Catholic government was a foregone conclusion:

And touching our Societie, be it known to you that we have made a league – all the Jesuits in the world, whose succession and multitude must overreach all the practices of England – cheerfully to carry the cross you shall lay, and never to despair your recovery, while we have a man left to enjoy your Tyburn, or to be racked with your torments, or consumed with your prisons. The expense is reckoned, the enterprise is begun; it is of God, it cannot be withstood. So the Faith was planted; so it must be restored.

…I have no more to say but to recommend your case and mine to Almightie God, the Searcher of Hearts, who send us His grace, and set us at accord before the day of payment, to the end we may at last be friends in Heaven, when all injuries shall be forgotten.

My edition of Saint Edmund Campion is a reprint from Sophia Institute Press from about twenty years ago; I’m sorry that the book is no longer listed in the publisher’s online catalog. Amazon.com steps into the breach with at least two editions.

Writing in the mid-1930s, Waugh in his Preface to Campion wrote presciently about how the sixteenth-century martyr would speak to us in our own day.

We have seen the Church driven underground in one country after another. The martyrdom of Father [now Blessed] Pro in Mexico re-enacted Campion’s. In fragments and whispers we get news of other saints in the prison camps of eastern and southeastern Europe, of cruelty and degradation more frightful than anything in Tudor England and of the same pure light shining in the darkness, uncomprehended. The hunted, trapped, murdered priest is amongst us again, and the voice of Campion comes to us across the centuries as though he were walking at our side.