the Battle for Life is worth it!
Second of a multi-part story of the Whittaker Family, a Catholic clan whose fiat might well have changed the course of America for the better!
We pick up today where we left off on Monday in introducing you to a special family, one that, through their fiat and efforts, have quite possibly changed the course of America for the better.
Michael Cain, editor
A decade or so ago there was a television show called "Family Fued" in which host Richard Dawson intoned "Let's meet the Family." Today, we mimic that with "Let's meet the Whittakers." The parents are Greg and Toni Whittaker, and their eleven devoted and happy children, all named after saints and more than a few named after visonaries during this recent Age of Marian Apparitions from Lourdes to Fatima to Medjugorje. They are: Jacinta, 17; Bernadette, 15; Marija Mir, 14; Lucia, 13; Elizabeth, 11; Anna, 9; Francisco, 7; Magdalena, 5; Joseph, 4; Anthony, 2; and the youngest at 9 months John.
They are a family of thirteen that evokes memories of the large Catholic families of yesteryear. They are proof, along with the ever-expanding family of Joe and Jane Dalton in the St. Louis area (who now write a weekly Faith in the Family column in this publication), and hundreds of others who are bearing great fruits for their faithfulness literally, figuratively and spiritually for they have taken Pope Paul VI's inspiring encyclical "Humanae Vitae" to heart. It is families like the Whittakers that gives credence to the fact that there is a new renaissance of reverence and respect for Holy Mother Church in this country. As we wrote in our first installment Monday, the Whittakers are the kind of Catholic family all should attain to emulate. In truth, they are really no different than any other family except that there are more of them. God's gotta love 'em, mainly because they love Him so and strive so faithfully to do His Holy Will. This is clearly manifested in the tremendous coup for Heaven they pulled off in raising over three and a half million Rosary pledges from committed Catholics throughout America and around the world to help ennoble and enable President George W. Bush to restore the culture of life in the United States. Bush has often said that it won't happen until hearts change. The millions and millions of Hail Mary's are going a long way in effecting this.
And we have the Whittakers to thank for this. We truly believe that, through their efforts, the course of American history has been changed for the better. While we are not going to canonize them, we do want to share their virtues with the world. As in every family, nobody is perfect and we imagine they have their share of fueds like anyone else, as Toni honestly admitted there was a good share of tension within their own family because of the massive work they were doing with seemingly no reward but ridicule. However, because of their strong bond with Jesus and Mary and each other, there is no lasting "family fued" but rather "family focus and love" that unites them for a common purpose, fuels their hearts, that motivates them to action.
We asked, in a series of questions put to Toni, the matriarch of the family and a young 42 year-old mother of eleven at that, who doesn't fit the standard mold of a "matriarch," how this all started. "As Election Day neared, I was not confident that Bush would win," she responded. "I had a restless fear, that for a third time, America would choose a pro-abortion president." She also pointed out the symbolism of their names. "In the dictionary, the word 'gore' means blood, slaughter, carnage. The word 'bush,' or thorn bush as described in Genesis when Moses came before the burning bush, is a small tree, symbolic in the Bible for life."
Whether she saw our issue of Wednesday October 25th in Dr. Frank Joseph's Pro-Life Prescriptions column in which we depicted photos of Bush with a rainbow behind him along side a photo of then vice-president Al Gore with threatening thunderclouds above and the headline: "Visible Signs of God's Love," we don't know as of this writing, but we do know she was greatly concerned as were many loyal Catholics who turned to prayer for answers. She focused on the key issue, "I believe the culture of life and the culture of death were what gave each candidate hope and vision in winning the presidency, even after the election, one by the power of prayer and justice, and the other by the old principle that the end justifies the means."
On the evening of November 7th and into the early morning of the 8th the pressure and tension built in the Whittaker household just as it did across countless households throughout America as the election returns started to trickle in and the ebb and flow was enough to prompt anyone to reach for an antacid and a Tylenol. The networks didn't ease the headaches. I know our palms were sweaty in our home as our whole family experienced a roller-coaster of emotions as electoral votes indicated it would be the closest election in our history.
There was only one thing the Whittakers could do. They hopped in their car at 2 a.m. and headed for their parish for Holy Hour. "On the way, we heard that Mr. Bush had won and that Gore was on his way to make a concession speech," Toni remembers. "In the Adoration Thanksgiving Book, we wrote down, 'In thanksgiving for our new president, George W. Bush.' Little did we know how long it would be in coming."
At that point little did anyone know but God. He was waiting for His children to storm Heaven and it came through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to a cradle Catholic family who were nurtured in the tenets of the faith on the east coast. Both Greg and Toni came from large Catholic families themselves; Greg as the oldest in a family of ten in Maryland; Toni, the seventh of twelve children growing up in New York. All in all the Whittakers have about 80 cousins, numerous aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews. They must need nametags when they gather for family reunions. But they don't need identification in Heaven for Greg and Toni and their family are now well-known in those celestial regions. Not that Toni and Greg were aware, however, because, by her own admission, she doesn't feel as though they've done enough. Isn't that typical of true heroes? They had moved to where they live today for two reasons; one, because it was close to Greg's work at Mitre where he is a systems engineer; and two, because it was near Christendom College in an area near Catholics of similar backgrounds and devotion. When asked about being active in the Church, she honestly replies, "I'm not sure how to answer. I don't think of myself as active in the Church, but our family participates in the sacramental life of the Church daily. It seems, unfortunately, that the few times in my life I have been active, it has not been in the Church, for example rescuing at abortuaries or walking through Death Valley as penance for this country."
That last answer shows how sincere and humble this family is for that is truly what being active in the Church is all about, living the spiritual and corporal works of mercy while being nourished by the Sacraments on a daily basis. It brings home all the clearer what the Little Flower Saint Therese imparted and what another saint of our day Mother Teresa, whom President Bush cited in his Inaugural Address, lived: Do the little things with great love.
It was with great love for God's little ones, His forgotten ones, His abandoned ones, His holy innocents slaughtered in the womb for so long, that prompted Toni and Greg to take action. A frustrated Toni describes it thus, "My husband was confident all would be smoothed out in a few days. I was restless and, in between the household chores, I called a few people to see what could be done. In the little time I had, I got nowhere." Yet this didn't deter her, rather, she prayed ever more realizing that, "if some drastic measures were not taken, I could see Bush going to DC in January for the Inauguration with the military police behind him and, at the same time, Gore going to DC for the popular inauguration with the local police behind him. Crazy as this thought was, it stayed with me for the next few days. I felt that time was ticking for better or for worse."
Rather than allowing this polarization to consume her and the family, rather than putting up with all the banal network analysis and politics of personal destruction and spin that was engulfing the country as the barristers and politicians took over and other groups sought to exploit the situation, Toni set her mind on doing something. The question was, would she be able to convince the rest of the family? "On Fridays, my husband works at home," she relates. "After a busy morning with the Guild of the Holy Spirit (a homecoming academic co-op), I presented the idea to my family of sending a message out by e-mail, so that all of us who were praying, and had been praying to end abortion in our country, could band together. Otherwise, I felt people were alone in their prayers and maybe worry more and pray less because there was no goal or focus. The older girls said, 'Let's do it! If nothing happend, nothing lost.' Together we wrote a simiple, urgent message."
Toni recalled how the Rosary had turned the tide at Lepanto and thus she adopted the title "Lepanto Rosary Campaign." It is no coincidence that everything was settled on the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe for not only is this icon the standard bearer for life, but it is the same image Pope Saint Pius V personally gave Don Juan of Austria before he sailed into battle in October of 1571. We call it a Godincidence that Bush's election victory was finalized on December 12th. How fitting, how appropriate, how prophetic.
Just as the Admiral of the Christian fleet faced unbelievable odds, so also Toni and her family. First of all, Toni was not computer literate, "I had no idea how to send an e-mail out. So my husband took the message and sent it out to the Catholic groups posted on the CatholiCity website. We tried getting a Lepanto address, but the office delayed until the next week, so we went ahead with my personal e-mail." That didn't deter the family from seeking out the pastor of their parish to get permission to collect pledges after each Mass that weekend. They were collecting as many Rosary pledges as they could from fellow parishioners with the target date November 17 since that was the date the Florida Supreme Court had set to determine the winner of the Florida Electoral Vote as the ridiculous recount was going on and the world was introduced to chads, dimpled and pregnant chads. As we wrote shortly after, how ironic that Al Gore, who could care less for a pregnant mother's unborn, was fighting for his political life over a pregnant chad.
With the clock ticking and the entire family caught up in the spirit and scrambling to collect pledges, Greg applied even more pressure on the family when enthusiastically got caught up in the possibilities and laid down the gauntlet for collecting three million pledges. "My husband came up with the goal of 3 million Rosaries. He said it represented 1% of the American population," Toni explained. "This ended up being the greatest tension of the campaign, because he saw the goal as a suggested aim, whereas I saw it as a challenge and became more fixed on the amount. He thought the effort was what counted, but I didn't want to let Our Lady down."
And so as the court battles waned on, as ballots were shipped to Talahassee under the scrutiny of 24-hour televison coverage, as history was unfolding, the Whittaker family set about to alter history for the better by soliciting countless bouquets of Hail Mary's. As the days passed, more ammo was forthcoming.
Needless to say, satan was furious and would do anything he could to discourage the Whittakers' fiat. Just as Don Juan and his fleet did, the Whittakers dug in. Like Lepanto, the Battle for Life is worth it!
For the First Part of this series, see Changing the world - one Hail Mary at a time!
Coming Friday: Part Three: "Grace was on the move!"
For past editorials, see CATHOLIC PewPOINT Archives
February 14, 2001
volume 12, no. 45
CATHOLIC PewPOINT commentary