Francis Phillips reviews Faithful for Life, The Autobiography of Father Paul Marx OSB, and The Death Peddlers: War on the Unborn. Both By Father Paul Marx OSB

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Faithful for Life, The Autobiography of Father Paul Marx OSB, and The Death Peddlers: War on the Unborn. Both By Father Paul Marx OSB, and available from HLI UK, 431 Sidcup Road, London SE 9 4ET. Tel: (44) 208 315 5056. £4.99 each inc. p+p.

Just as the struggle against slavery will always be associated with the name of William Wilberforce so, when the history books come to be written about the battle for life itself, the name of Father Paul Marx will be prominent. For over half a century this irrepressible American Benedictine has devoted his priesthood and his formidable energy to the fight against the fearsome ‘anti-trinity’ of contraception (the ‘white death’), abortion and euthanasia. This has involved constant travelling – 91 countries to date – endless speaking engagements, writing, fundraising – ‘he is able to charm money out of stones’ observed a supporter – and energising others with his own drive and vision.

One of 17 children from a devout, Catholic, farming family in Minnesota, his earliest memory, aged 4, was watching his mother weep at the funeral of her 17th baby, inculcating in his childish heart the preciousness of life long before he could formally understand the concept. The enormous spiritual powerhouse of St John’s Benedictine Abbey, which was nearby, was a natural magnet to this 15th child, and where he trained for the priesthood. Unusually for the time, his seminary training,1942-7, included learning about the latest knowledge of natural birth regulation.

No-one whose eyes have been opened to the passionate battle between the culture of life and the forces of death, can fail to be caught up in the story of Father Marx’s own struggles. However, against the odds he opened his Human Life International headquarters in 1980. Today this vibrant pro-life movement has an 8 million dollar domestic budget, 75 branches in 57 countries, 98 paid workers and untold volunteers.

He pays generous tribute to the great pro-life personalities he has encountered in his colourful life, such as the late Professor Jerome Lejeune, Drs John and Evelyn Billings, Dr Bernard Nathanson, the former abortion doctor, and the German Lutheran surgeon, Siegfried Ernst, among many others. He quotes Lejeune’s aphorism: ‘Chemical contraception is really like making love without making a baby; in vitro fertilisation is making a baby without making love; abortion is undoing the child; pornography is undoing love…’

He also has amusing stories of how his unusual surname proved a magic passport into the then Communist countries (‘I am only related to Karl Marx through Adam and Eve’, he joked with John Paul II) and includes moving photos of himself with some of his numerous spiritual children tumbling about him and held lovingly in his arms.

If I have a criticism of this book it is that it is largely an external record of activity: places visited, people encountered, polemics engaged in. It is not an interior journey. Father Marx himself confesses that he found ‘praying harder than working’ and that ‘vacationing has never been my cup of tea’. Yet, if he is no contemplative, he has achieved much. Modestly he remarks, ‘God will not ask me if I succeeded, only if I have tried…’

To lay people and others, often disheartened by the seeming paucity of their never-ending efforts in the pro-life battle, he quotes his own early mentor, Father Virgil Michel, on whom he wrote his doctoral thesis: ‘Between two Masses you can bear everything’ – an encouragement to attend daily Mass where possible, and a reminder that central to all battles between good and evil (Fr Marx rightly sees diabolism behind the anti-life brigade) is prayer, especially that prayer which is the ‘source and summit’ of Catholic life – the Sacrifice of the Mass.

His book, The Death Peddlers, its title taken from the memorable phrase of a South African Jewish pro-life doctor, Hymie Gordon, is an essential ‘bible’ for all pro-lifers, detailing every aspect of abortion, legal, medical and sociological. This edition was deliberately published on 25th July 1998, to coincide with the 30th anniversary of Pope Paul VI’s encyclical, Humanae Vitae. Shortly before his death, Pope Paul, who had been savagely pilloried for this prophetic encyclical, simply said, ‘I did not betray the truth’. Neither must we.

© 2004 Francis Phillips

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