PITTSBURGH –– It can be difficult keeping a smile on your face when dealing with people who don’t share your pro-life views. Conversations can sometimes erupt into hurtful arguments, so it’s vital that you maintain an attitude of compassion and understanding.
Msgr. Jim Lisante of the Diocese of Rockville Centre, N.Y., gave young people that advice June 26 during the National Teens for Life convention, held during the National Right to Life Committee convention at the Hyatt Regency Hotel at Pittsburgh International Airport.
“Bring some joy to the situation. I find, very often in the church especially, people feel that somberness or sourness is a sign of holiness. And I’m a big believer, with Father John Powell, that you earn more opportunities for changing people’s hearts if you approach with joy,” he said.
“Be joyous that you are a pro-lifer, but bring your joy into the debate, too, and don’t become negative, critical, nasty or put down because they don’t see things the way you do,” he said.
Besides being a pastor for 14 years and former director of the diocesan family life office, Msgr. Lisante is well known as the host of “Personally Speaking” on TV and Sirius XM satellite radio. He formerly hosted “Christopher Closeup” on television, and a new TV program, “Close Encounter,” is coming soon to CBS and PBS affiliates.
“What the show’s about is what all these shows are about: It’s me interviewing people about their faith, values and ideals to get people to talk about spirituality and religion as a positive force in the world,” he said in an interview with the Pittsburgh Catholic, a diocesan newspaper.
Recent interviewees have included actors Carol Channing and Stephen Baldwin, novelists Nicholas Sparks and Mary Higgins Clark, and shortstop Derek Jeter of the New York Yankees. Upcoming guests include New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees and actor-comedian Billy Crystal.
“They all bring different perspectives. I discover so much with each guest, that’s what I love,” Msgr. Lisante said.
Among his favorite TV guests were actresses Rue McClanahan and Patricia Neal.
The late McClanahan, who was best known for appearing on “The Golden Girls” sitcom, once spoke of her faith journey.
“What I loved was she said she was raised in a Baptist tradition in Oklahoma and was so scared of everything about God from an early age,” but when McClanahan was in her 70s, Msgr. Lisante said, she was relieved to have come to an understanding that Jesus was far more loving.
Neal, who recently became a Catholic, spoke movingly about how, in the early 1950s, she became pregnant by actor Gary Cooper, who was married.
“And she just said on the show, ‘I have for 45 years, alone in the night, cried for the stupid decision I made to abort that child,’ and, she said, ‘So my message would be, don’t make my mistake and let your child live.'”
Msgr. Lisante gave the keynote speech at National Right to Life’s closing banquet June 26, focusing on “Keeping the Faith in Obama-esque Times.” He said President Barack Obama’s life illustrates the pro-life message.
“If I worked at Planned Parenthood and someone came in to me and said, ‘I’m in an interracial marriage, we’re poor, I have an abusive husband who’s rarely present and my child is going to have to be raised for several years by the grandparents, what should I do?’ they would certainly have indicated abortion. And that’s my point,” Msgr. Lisante said. “If he could just get that, that he wouldn’t be here if we followed the traditional pro-choice thinking.
“I’m a believer that we have to approach him (Obama) with respect and love,” he said. “He is, in fact, in my mind a great example of our message.”
Msgr. Lisante considers health care reform and concern over the use of taxpayer funds to pay for abortion to be the most urgent life-related issue.
“There’s no doubt that the more we create laws that in any way service or promote abortion we’re just creating more abortion. And at a time when you have polls indicating that now the majority of Americans consider themselves pro-life, this is exactly the time to stop that,” Msgr. Lisante said.
He is disheartened when opinion polls indicate that Catholics are as likely, if not more likely, to undergo or support abortion than the rest of American society. Certainly there’s a need for more catechesis and preaching, he said, though often priests seem afraid to deliver a powerful pro-life talk because some parishioners may have had abortions.
“We say to people, ‘Know the church teaching,’ but I wonder how well they know it, how deeply they know it,” he said. “If you’re not doing adult education in the parish and you’re not preaching about it, why should we presume people know something when we don’t talk about it? Whether it’s about contraception or whether it’s about the right to life, at least give people the facts.”
The 38th annual convention June 24-26 featured five general sessions, more than 60 workshops and an annual prayer breakfast.