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A sermon on Respect Life Sunday

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Fr. Mike Paraniuk

By Fr. Mike Paraniuk
St. Mary Catholic Church (Hillsboro)
St. Benignus Catholic Church (Greenfield)
Saint Mary Queen of Heaven Catholic Church (Peebles)
Holy Trinity Catholic Church (West Union)

"We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves." (2 Corinthians 4:7.) 

This is the story of God using a clay jar to shine His light through its broken cracks. For two years, I lived as a Capuchin Friar at their monastery in Herman, Pa. I met an older friar whom I admired for his kindness and especially his gentleness. I never saw him become angry or raise his voice. He would not even hurt insects. I expressed my desire to be more like him. 

He replied, "You wouldn't if you knew my past."  

Brother Jim shared with me his life story. What I heard floored me. He was not always the gentle man I came to know.

Before becoming a friar, he was Jim who got into fights and stole money as a child. At 14, he entered the Marines during WW II but was soon court-martialed for hitting an officer. He was sent to a juvenile detention center for assault and battery. At age 19, he married a girl named Alice. She soon became pregnant with twins. Jim drank heavily, turning him into a mean drunk filled with rage and jealousy. He hit bottom on Nov. 13, 1947. He came home drunk from an all-day bender. Alice told him either stop drinking or she would leave him. Jim gave his answer. He grabbed his deer rifle, walked into the kitchen and shot her dead.

He was sentenced to life in prison. It was in prison where God revealed Himself, turning Jim's life from tragedy to triumph. There he met a Franciscan friar, Fr. Richard, who brought God's Mercy. Jim shared with the priest his deep sorrow for killing his wife whom he loved. He drank so much that day he was in a blackout and didn't even remember shooting the rifle. Jim was tormented for years with frequent dreams of two little girls coming to him asking, "Daddy, why did you do this?"  

It took Father Richard several years to convince Jim that God forgives even the greatest sin to anyone who asks.

After serving 20 years, Jim was paroled for good behavior. He petitioned to join the Franciscans. They accepted him when he was 45 years old in 1972. On the night before he was received into the Franciscans, the dreams of the two little girls would end. The last dream showed them smiling. They said, "We forgive you, daddy." 

Brother Jim told me, "That's how I knew the twins were girls and they forgave me."

Brother Jim spent the next 40 years devoting his life to the cause of pro-life. He was uniquely qualified by the testimony of his life. When Jim appeared for his arraignment, he was charged not just with the murder of his wife, but also for the death of his twins. The court charged Jim for three murders. 

Therefore, the court considered those pre-born children in his wife's womb as human persons with constitutional rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. 

Jim remarked to me, "Then how can abortion be legal when other pre-born children have the same right to life as did my twins?" He asked, "Why did the court consider my twins as human persons when I committed a crime, but not given the rights of a human person during an abortion?" 

Brother Jim's question screams to be answered today. "What about the rights of the baby?" They are human persons with inalienable rights. God gives all human persons an inalienable right to survive and to live. This right cannot be changed, renounced, given away or denied. 

Brother Jim Townsend went to arms of His Father on June 12, 2011 at age of 84. He is buried at the friar's plot at St. Mary Church in Herman, Pa. I have visited his grave several times. God used this broken earthen vessel, a criminal who took three lives, to affirm the dignity of every human life. 

If Brother Jim were alive today, he would be voting "no" on Ohio Issue One.

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