Sunday, February 21, 2016

PRO-LIFERS AND PRO-LIFE: A TALK GIVEN TO THE FRIENDS OF 'BIRTHRIGHT'

Birthright is an organization that helps expectant mothers bring their children to term and care for them afterwards.
    I want to begin by telling you something that will make you uncomfortable.  Well, I hope it will make you uncomfortable.  It makes me uncomfortable.  And, as they say, misery loves company.
    At the Saint Louis Priory School, I teach a class in Apologetics, which is the art of defending Catholic doctrine.  Last week, one of my students (a child who, I have come to suspect, was created by God for the sole purpose of making me miserable) this student declared in the presence of the entire class, “The best argument against Catholicism–in fact, the best reason to not be a Catholic at all…is Catholics.” 
    I came about this close to telling him “And the best argument for euthanizing teenagers…is you” but stopped myself halfway through that sentence when I realized that he was right.  My Catholic faith may be the single most beautiful thing I have ever known, but I am a singularly unworthy advocate.  (I recognize that this sounds like false humility.  It is.  Which merely proves my point.)
    So here’s the part that’s going to make you uncomfortable; to steal words from my most annoying student: “The best argument against the pro-life movement…is pro-lifers.”   Now I don’t mean to imply that the people in this room are any better or worse than anyone else.   In fact, from where I stand, and judging by the kind of work you do, you seem like a pretty decent folk.  But your

cause is so noble, none of you could possibly match up to it. Nonetheless you must try.  And you must fail (For who can realistically expect to be more successful in their ministry that Jesus was in his?)
    So.
    You are stuck with an impossibly beautiful vocation that you can never live up to.  In the expectant mother, you serve Jesus Himself.  But it would be sheer folly to believe that Jesus is lucky to have you.
    Nonetheless, you are called.   Therefore you serve.   And you serve on the righteous side of a struggle for the very heart of our civilization.   (I don’t think I’m being overdramatic.   If human life is not the heart of our civilization, then I don’t know what it is.)  And I’ll repeat:  you will fail.   You have been tried and found lacking.
    But here’s the good news: there’s a loophole!   It will not surprise you to hear that I believe this loophole is humility (after all, I literally wrote the book on humility.)  On both sides of every abortion discussion I have ever heard, the one virtue conspicuous missing has been humility.  In practical terms, here’s what I mean:  We cannot fall into the trap—Satan’s trap—of believing that we are holier than the people with whom we disagree.  We cannot fall into the trap—Satan’s trap—of believing that we are smarter…or kinder…or cleverer than our brothers and sisters at Planned Parenthood.  We cannot fall into the trap—Satan’s trap—of believing that God loves us more.  We cannot fall into the trap—Satan’s trap—of believing that their motives are selfish or sadistic or stupid (for who among us can honestly claim to have pure motives?)  If we are to win hearts, we must approach these people—our brothers and sisters—with humility.  We must treat them like friends.  No, we must show them that they are our friends.
    In this great battle for the heart of our civilization, there is no room for self-righteous indignation—no room even for righteous indignation. In the words of Saint Paul, we must be “patient and kind, bearing all things, believing all things, hoping all things, and enduring all things.”  What does Saint Paul mean by “believing all things”?  Allow me to suggest that I think it means we should believe in our friends on the other side of this conflict—believe in our hearts that they want what is right—that, like us, they seek God and seek the good.  We must believe this.  We must assume it.  Don’t get me wrong.   I am utterly convinced that they are mistaken.  Tragically mistaken.  But only God is in a position to judge their motives, their hearts.
    So here is a Lenten homework assignment:  This upcoming week, I want you to research one pro-choice argument and make a serious, sympathetic attempt to understand it.  (Notice, by the way, that I said sympathetic, not necessarily open-minded.  Abortion is evil, I am convinced of that, and I don't want you to be ‘open’ to evil.  But I do want you to try to understand it.  And not just for the sake of shooting it down, but for the sake of understanding our friends on the other side of this conflict.  I want you to try to find something worthy, something admirable, something true in that argument.
    Now maybe this is something you have already figured out.  Maybe this is something you already do.  But for me, it is novel and difficult.  Nonethrless, it’s what I expect them to do, isn’t it? I want them to listen to me with an open heart.   I want them to give me the benefit of the doubt.  I want them to leave behind their prejudices and presuppositions about my motives; but I can hardly ask them for such openness if my own heart is closed against them.
    I realize I am asking a difficult thing.  I am asking you to listen with a sympathetic heart to an opinion that you find deplorable.  Well, tough.   There’s a reason I have no social life.   And besides that, you literally asked for it. 

    So that’s the uncomfortable part.  I thought I’d end with something a little more upbeat, so that if I scandalized anyone, maybe they would be distracted and forget what I said.  I’d like to tell you a true story about a friend of mine—one of the many mothers who, thanks to people like you, know how to choose life.  Your witness, your prayers, your rallies, and let’s be honest, your money has empowered women like her to face the devil down.
    (My apologies if you’ve heard this story before.  I only have one pro-life talk.  I have several on humility but as of last  Friday, Ignatius press owns the rights to them.)
    My friend is married with three kids.  Exactly thirteen years ago, and sixteen weeks pregnant, her water broke.  Ultrasound revealed that the amniotic sac had completely ruptured, that there was no more fluid around the baby.  She was told that she would go into labor within the next forty-eight hours, and that there looked to be amniotic bands within the womb. These pieces of tissue would begin to wrap around the baby's limbs and amputate them. She was sent home after a two-day hospital stay with instructions to return weekly to have an ultrasound so that they’d know when the baby was dead.  Weeks passed and still she had not gone into labor. At this point the doctors became adamant that she should—in the chillingly antiseptic language of the business—“terminating the pregnancy.” The diagnosis was that the baby was severely mentally and physically handicapped.  A second doctor informed her that there was a less than 1% chance of the baby's survival. She also said that the baby had severe club feet and would be born without lungs.  The doctor said to her, and I quote, "You have a moral duty to finish what God has started."  Five different doctors told her to "terminate" the pregnancy. They told her that this child was a threat to her life. What's more, they assured her that the child was already mentally and physically worthless. Even if it could be brought to term, they assured her, it would die in her arms. Even if it could survive delivery, it would be crippled and profoundly retarded.  "Have an abortion." they told her. One doctor even set up an appointment for her against her wishes. "Do it now," this doctor said, taking her by the arm, "Put a period at the end of this sentence."
    When my friend broke the news to her husband, this is what he said: "How lucky for this child that she would be born into a family which could love her for who she is! What better family than ours to raise a disabled child?"  I told my friend, if your husband leaves the toilet seat up for the rest of his life, let it go, because he has earned it.

Mary
    For two months, my friend lived with the knowledge that she would, at best, bear a child who would die in her arms.  She decided to name the child Mary.  In the meantime, she prayed, her husband prayed, and Rachel, Mary’s older sister, she prayed too.  She didn’t entirely understand what was going on, but she knew her sister was in trouble, and I wonder sometimes if perhaps it was the profound innocence of her prayers that reached into the great well of God’s grace and extracted a miracle.  In the 25th week of her pregnancy another ultrasound revealed something extraordinary.  "We need to call the Pope,” said the doctor.  "Not only has the amniotic sack re-sealed itself, but all the fluid has returned." He called in all the interns, all the nurses, the assistants, random people standing the hallway... The amniotic bands had disappeared. The baby was in perfect health.
    By now, you’ve probably guessed that I’m talking about my sister.   Mary is my niece.  She is an honor student at John Paul Second Institute.   Last week, she turned thirteen.   On her behalf, and on behalf of my family, I’d like to thank you for your witness and your prayers.  Surely hers is not the only life you’ve saved.  May almighty God bless you all, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.