by Kim Long
Pro-life can be a sensitive subject. Opinions are often developed by people who are uninformed or only partially informed about Church teaching on life, or by people who are conflicted based on personal situations. And while I am no expert on theology, I am a person who seeks information, forms opinions and prays for wisdom.
The Catholic Church teaches that life begins at conception and ends at natural death. In Deuteronomy 30:19 we are told, “ I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. So choose life in order that you may live and your descendants.”
The directive seems quite clear, yet somehow the waters have been troubled.
Several years ago I traveled into uncharted territory: I had to teach high school religion at my parish. Now as a mother of four sons, perhaps I’m thought to be brave and tough. And however true I may believe that to be, my courage did not transfer into the classroom of the eleventh grade confirmation class.
One of the first things they asked me was, “if we don’t believe everything the Church teaches, can we believe some things?” I prayed for divine assistance. I drew a line on the chalkboard near the bottom, another slightly hovering above the first and then one at the top of the board. I told them the bottom line was nothingness. The line right above it was us, and the line at the top was all the Church teaches and believes, the repository of faith. No one knows everything the Church teaches and believes. The space between these lines is our lives and we spend that time journeying toward a fullness of understanding.
As the weeks continued, it was only a matter of time before someone brought up birth control and abortion. Sadly that was their entire scope of understanding the Church’s rich teaching on pro-life. It was then I realized we needed to spend some time “unpacking” the pro-life teaching.
We began by examining the actual phrase “pro-life.” I pointed out that with every choice we make, we are enjoined to choose life. For example, “Do you really need the triple cheeseburger? Do you really need to put someone down? Are the friends you have chosen helping you create or destroy?”
As we talked, the possibilities opened up. We considered “pro-life” as an acronym.
Purpose: Do you know why you are here? The old Baltimore Catechism has this to offer: “Who made you? God. Why? To know Him, love Him, and serve Him in this world and be happy with Him in the next.” Simple? Yes. Easy? Not so much.
1 Thessalonians also has a similar statement: “Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ.”
Until we accept this is our purpose, everything else can get stuck. Take a little time to sit with these phrases from the catechism and scripture. Ask God to reveal what you need to know in order to fulfill your purpose!
Respect: This may seem like a no brainer, but what is respect really? I checked with Webster’s and found an interesting take: “high or special regard.”
Years ago I was introduced to a great book called Codependent No More by Melodie Beattie. It was wonderful, but the truth it contained stung a bit. I liked approval and, according to the text, depended on it too much. If all my self worth came from exterior sources, how I could I respect myself? True, I could look at some of the things I had achieved so far, but I was unable to apply those feelings of past achievements to myself in general. I did not understand then that I have value simply because I am made in the image and likeness of a God who knew me before I was formed in the womb. Until we hold ourselves in some regard, it is difficult to extend that regard to others. As my mother used to say, “Charity begins at home.”
ONENESS: Deuteronomy 6:5 says, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul and all your strength.” In Luke 10, Jesus repeats this with the addition of “love your neighbor as yourself.”
In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus tells the confused disciples that whenever they had helped the least of these their brothers and sisters, they had done likewise to him.
When we begin to see that we are treating our “brothers and sisters” differently than how we treat God, we are not choosing life. Simple. End of story. Now I have lots of trouble with this concept and I doubt that I am alone.
Try taking a breath and responding rather than reacting. Learn that it is absolutely fine to refrain from immediately weighing in on every situation; in fact some situations are best left alone. Increase your awareness. Pray and think before you act.
LIFE: Enjoy life! Don’t keep it on the shelf until “one day.” You know “one day,” don’t you? One day I will exercise. One day I will call up my cousin I haven’t spoken with in 10, 20, 30 years. One day things will be different. Not true – one day we will be older and still thinking, “I wish I would have done…” Be moderate in your enjoyment; don’t range out of balance. Remember with every action we engage in, we create or destroy. Choose to create!
Native American spiritual leader Black Elk said, “In a sacred manner I am walking…” I ask myself, “How am I walking? How am I approaching life? How are all my choices leading me to life and to blessing?” If I cannot learn that how I treat myself and others is a direct reflection of how I relate to God, then I may only crawl.
INTENTION: Intention is defined as determination to act in a certain manner, a plan. I was surprised to read that it also means a manner of healing certain types of wounds. Each morning, for the past several months, upon waking I utter, “Thank you, God.”
There are two prayers that are great examples of setting the day’s intention. The modeh ani, a Jewish prayer, thanks God for waking us, “great is your faithfulness in me for giving me another day.”
In our Catholic tradition we have the Morning Offering, where we offer all things coming our way to God for what He deems best. These prayers really make me aware of the amazing opportunity God gives me for setting an intention to all I do, say and pray that day.
In the evening there is a beautiful prayer which encourages us to look back on our day, ask forgiveness and sleep well knowing God understands, forgives and will work with us to help us grow.
Faith: What is life without faith? For me nothing. My faith has been tested and bent at pretty uncomfortable angles, but it is still there. My grandmother used to say she stepped out on her faith the moment her two feet hit the floor in the morning. At the time I was reading some lofty theological book and I silently thought how “basic” her statement was. God has forgiven me for that bit of arrogance and ignorance and, thankfully, has brought me full circle.
Now when my feet hit the floor, I acknowledge this posture as one of faith. I confess I am that person who wants to know the why of it all. Scripture reminds me that faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. Experience, age and my feet have led me to a place of rest, a place where I don’t need (and sometimes don’t want) every answer – a place of faith. Without faith no choice seems to matter.
Enter: Enter the miracle which is life in all of its many forms. Fr. Thomas Berry, a Jesuit priest who wrote extensively about creation, says all of creation is the great curriculum. Life can be difficult, life can be sublime, life can be filled with joy and overflowing with sorrow. Life can be a direct reflection of our own understanding of this miracle, this gift which we are plainly told to choose. Don’t sleepwalk through this experience, instead laugh, cry, have a dessert, love your neighbor, don’t neglect yourself, never forget God is with us always and everywhere. Cry, dance, pray, laugh out loud, be with friends and family. Set an intention, be alone in reflective silence, be alive – choose life!
This was the basic talk I had with my class that year. Of course abortion is wrong, sex should be reserved for marriage and not seen as currency. We shouldn’t overeat, we shouldn’t gossip, balance is vital and prayer is our glue. But in the end, it comes down to awareness and choices. It comes down to knowing our purpose, why we are here. I told them God doesn’t expect perfection, but He does expect us to show up. We are to assist in bringing about the kingdom “on earth AS IT IS in heaven.” Some days that may mean speaking to an unpopular person at school, sharing your last dollar or attending a weekday Mass out of sheer desire to connect with God through the Eucharist. The choice is yours. •