by Fr Richard Heilman | December 11, 2018 8:56 am
My first day at St. Mary of Pine Bluff was the 150th anniversary celebration of this amazing parish. It was observed on June 27, 2004, and Bishop Robert Morlino was there to celebrate with my brand new parish. I was replacing Msgr. James Bartylla, whom Bishop Morlino would name as Vicar General of the diocese.
The history of the parish dates back to 1854. The first log church was built for a cost of $200 and was dedicated on the Feast of the Assumption, Aug. 15, 1854.
Bishop Morlino had been named the Bishop of Madison, WI only one year prior to this 150th anniversary celebration. Ironically, bishop’s homily spoke about “freedom.” As reported in the Madison Catholic Herald, Bishop Morlino said real freedom is not the freedom to do anything we want. It’s not the freedom to “do wrong and violate the right order of things.” It is Jesus who really makes us free instead of being slaves to sin.
The bishop discussed the Sunday readings, including the stories of Abraham and Isaac and Elijah and Elisha. These stories show the freedom that comes from Jesus Christ: “the freedom to sacrifice a son; to sever family ties; the freedom to be a hero, not ordinary; the freedom to be a saint, not mediocre.
I said Bishop’s homily on “freedom” was ironic because the founding of this parish occurred in the exact year the Republican Party was formed. The new Republican Party formed in 1854 on the basis of refusing to tolerate the expansion of slavery. The Republicans in 1854 had a majority in most, but not all of the Northern states and it had practically no support South of the Mason–Dixon line. In 1860, the Democrats were unable to stop the election of Republican Abraham Lincoln, even as they feared his election would lead to civil war. And, as history shows us, a civil war did, indeed, break out.
Amazingly, 1854 was even more significant. Although the belief that Mary was sinless, or conceived without original sin, has been widely held since Late Antiquity, the doctrine was not dogmatically defined in the Catholic Church until 1854 when Pope Pius IX, declared ex cathedra, i.e., using papal infallibility, in his papal bull Ineffabilis Deus, the Immaculate Conception to be doctrine.
Yes! Conception! As Catholics, we celebrate “conceptions!” Mary was conceived without original sin, making her a fitting vessel for Our Savior who would be conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit in Mary’s womb. These are the Advent days, leading up to Christmas, that we revere the infant Jesus in his mother’s womb. This is why we will always see babies in the wombs of mothers as especially cherished, and in need of our heroic protection so they may be free to live.
The atrocity of an entire political party, in 1854, willing to go to war in order to own human beings they did not believe were fully human beings, is now met with the horror of the same political party willing to throw everything they have got to fight for the right to murder human beings they do not believe are fully human beings. Killing babies is their sacrament … they will risk everything to save this sacrament … EVERYTHING!
The nation seems as polarized as it was in 1854, and this polarization is due, in large part, to the dehumanizing beliefs of the Democratic Party. Some say this may lead to another civil war. If so, I will join the fight to free unborn babies from being torn limb from limb from their mother’s wombs.
So, in 1854, the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception was defined while, in the same year, a force rose up to strike down the slavery of human beings while, in the same year, my parish was formed.
Today, my parish is filled with pro-life warriors. Go to any pro-life benefit dinner, and you will see the room filled with my parishioners. Look on the sidewalks of Planned Parenthood, and you will see many of my parishioners.
I am so thankful that God has positioned me, with these valiant warriors, to fight the good fight to end this greatest genocide in all of human history … 1,700,000,000 babies murdered, worldwide, since 1973. I know now that God is using this connection of 1854 to get my attention, and to increase my resolve to fight until we win this war.
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