Pro-Life Between the Bookends

Most pro-life Christians, I suspect, would agree that every human life is intrinsically valuable. The Book of Genesis tells us we are made in God’s image and likeness, and the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains that the image in which we are made is Jesus Christ Himself. Our dignity is not in the dust from which we were formed, but in the Spirit breathed into our lungs by the Creator Himself. Our worth has nothing to do with us, and everything to do with the One who loved us into being.

Many of us would not accept the argument that anyone—born or unborn, young or old, capable or incapable—is not worth saving or sustaining. Many of us believe that abortion and euthanasia are unacceptable, that suicide is always tragic, and that today, the death penalty is rarely justifiable even when it may seem deserved.

Why? Because the value of every human life is infinite in God’s eyes. Many of us believe and proclaim these truths. So why do we struggle to apply them to ourselves?

How many of us grew up wishing we were different somehow: taller or thinner; more athletic or smarter; better looking; more popular with girls, guys, teachers or parents?

How may of us carried that chip past graduation: a desire to be seen and noticed, heard and understood? A desire to prove ourselves, to be somebody, to be relied upon, to be right?

How many of us even now find ourselves wishing that we had different gifts? How many of us think that our spouses and children would benefit from someone different, or at least a better version of ourselves? And that if we were just a little more than what we are, we would be happier, they would be happier, even God would be happier?

How many of us will carry that with us into old age: the idea that we are what we can do? And if we regard this lie as truth, how many of us will leave this life feeling broken, diminished, worthless?

We Christians do not accept the argument that an unborn child’s potential disability or a newborn’s helplessness warrants termination, any more than a quadriplegic’s paralysis or an elderly woman’s inability to care for herself does. We do not accept that these people must somehow prove their worth or earn their right to life and loving care.

When we pray for human life to be valued in our culture, we reference the bookends, “from conception to natural death.” But what about our own lives, between the bookends?

Between the bookends, the same rationale applies. Our value is not rooted in what we can or cannot do. God needs nothing, from me, you or anyone else. The only thing He desires is us, just as we are. We cannot earn His love, but we don’t have to. We are made from it, shaped by it, and awash in it. It’s ours for the taking, in superabundance. He desires us: me…and you.

You have nothing left to prove. The only One who matters has already chosen you.

Call and Response: Embracing the Already of Christ’s Saving Act

Blogger’s Note: This was my final paper for the fourth semester of the Catechetical Institute, “Prayer: The Blessing Given and Received.” In this reflection, we were not only to discuss the final pillar of the Catechism, but the book and Institute as a whole. After two years of study, the Class of St. Padre Pio graduated this evening, following Mass with Bishop Kettler presiding. 

The fourth pillar of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) calls us to deeper relationship with our heavenly Father who loves us and redeems us by the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus, and the actions of the Holy Spirit in the world today. This relationship is cultivated through the gift of prayer, “a vital and personal relationship with the living and true God” (CCC 2558), approached “‘out of the depths’ of a humble and contrite heart” (CCC 2559). We are creatures, completely dependent on God’s love and mercy, not only for salvation, but for our basic needs, our next breath, our very existence. Even our desire to pray is prompted by the One who desires us, seeks us, spies us from afar and runs to greet us with great joy and love.

As with the previous pillars, I was struck by how much of the “work” of prayer is in God’s hands, not ours. We bear it like a burden at times, but it is He who beckons and inspires, who teaches us what to pray for and in what order (CCC 2763), who knows our needs before we express them and even when we can’t express them. It is He who changes us in prayer, not the other way around. I was also drawn again to His proximity: We sometimes cry out to Him as though He dwells a long way off in Heaven, but that Catechism reassures us that the heaven in which God dwells—“Our Father who art in Heaven”—is less elsewhere and more elseway:

This biblical expression does not mean a place (“space”), but a way of being; it does not mean that God is distant, but majestic. Our Father is not “elsewhere”: he transcends everything we can conceive of his holiness. It is precisely because he is thrice holy that he is so close to the humble and contrite heart.

“Our Father who art in heaven” is rightly understood to mean that God is in the hearts of the just, as in his holy temple. At the same time, it means that those who pray should desire the one they invoke to dwell in them (CCC 2794).

So we are not only immersed in God, but He in us—the Holy Spirit is not only as close as oil on skin, but so thoroughly fills us that, in truth, our only escape from Him is an act of the will in which we reject His love and refuse to turn back to Him. He who has the power to save us desires my salvation more than I do myself! Continue reading

‘I Can’t Love You Enough’

A while back I was counting my blessings in prayer, reflecting on my life and my family. I was struck by how differently things have turned out than I would have predicted, and how much better than I ever could have orchestrated myself. I remember choking up a bit (which happens more than I like to admit), smiling to myself and God, and saying to Him, “I can’t love you enough!”

When I said it, I meant, “I love you so much for all the great things you’ve done in my life, and even that isn’t adequate!”

But as soon as I heard my words, it struck me another way: I cannot love You enough. I am unable to love You, Lord, in the way that I should. You have given me everything; You lived and died for me…and I can barely find time to say thank you, let alone seek to do Your will.

I am unable to love You as I should, Lord.

That thought struck me again late last week, as we prepared to head to Bismarck for our oldest son Brendan’s graduation. As I reflected on it, I saw two paths I could take from there.

The first is well-worn and dusty; I have traveled it many times. It’s the path by which I try to pray harder, do more, use better words, cram more in. I try to earn my way into heaven through my own effort…and time and again, I fall, because I can’t love Him enough.

The other path is so little traveled that flowers grow, so that you almost dare not take a step. It’s the path by which I acknowledge the truth about myself: that nothing I can ever do can repay my debt to God for loving me into being and dying to save my soul. I learn to humble myself and submit to His plan, in which He saves me because I can’t love Him enough.

The first path leads to exhaustion, failure, frustration and despair. The second leads to freedom and peace. Which one, do you suppose, leads to Him?

Book Break: How to Be Holy

How-to-Be-HolyA few weeks ago, my spiritual director did something he’ s never done before: He directed me to read a book. This was not a casual suggestion. He said, “I want you to read it cover-to-cover as soon as possible, so if you are reading something else right now, stop.”

The book was Peter Kreeft’s How to Be Holy: First Steps in Becoming a Saint, which is the popular Catholic writer and philosopher’s take on (“festooning of”) a spiritual classic, Fr. Jean-Pierre de Caussade’s Abandonment to Divine Providence. I have not read the latter, but have read just enough Kreeft to know to expect a relatively quick read, light in tone, punny in humor, and practical in content. Continue reading

The Phantom Cross

A little more than a week ago, we dropped our second son Gabe off at the NET Center in St. Paul to begin training for nine months of drawing young people to Christ as a NET Ministries missionary. Then yesterday we dropped our eldest, Brendan, off for his third and final year at the University of Mary in Bismarck, North Dakota.

As we sped east on I-94 last night, Jodi reflected that we hadn’t taken a photo of Bren as we dropped him off this year. The first year we took several. Last year I snapped one of Brendan and his roommate Nick for Jodi, since she couldn’t be there when I dropped him off. This time we were both there, and it was clearer than ever that our adult son has another beautiful life, mostly hidden from us. This was revealed during a brief stop  at his girlfriend Becky’s home in Moorehead for introductions and delicious, homemade double-chocolate-chip-and-almond scones on the way to UMary, by the laughter and embraces upon his arrival on campus, the excitement and shouted greetings from hallways and upstairs windows, the verbal and non-verbal shorthand between our son and his friends. He belongs there as much as in our home, and we were so subconsciously aware of this that dropping him off and driving away seemed almost natural.

It was not precisely so when we dropped off Gabe. I’ve reflected briefly on the difference when we celebrated his grad party earlier this summer: When we took Bren to Bismarck the first time, the sensation was like a long, taut line from me to him—I could not see him, but I could feel him and was acutely aware of his presence six hours to the west. But Gabe was dropped off just down the road in St. Paul, at a place he has been before. Currently he is at a camp somewhere in the woods, praying and team-building and training like countless times previously. From this perspective, this feels like no big deal—Gabe is doing youth ministry as he has for years now.

On the other hand, this time he is not coming home until Christmas and will be gone again until spring. And if he is chosen for a traveling team, as he hopes, he won’t be in any one place, but will live out of a suitcase, a van and a trailer, staying in strange homes in strange cities. Continue reading