August 8, 2008
Are We a Pro-Life People?
Last week, Simcha Fisher invited us to talk about natural family planning, and boy did we comply. More than 90 comments later, one thing is clear — this is a topic we like to debate.
I’ve read many different discussions about NFP where Catholics will debate its use and its abuse, its effectiveness and its complications, its rewards and its challenges. There is a time, however, when all the debates and discussions must fall silent.
When a battle-weary mother stands alone in her bathroom looking with disbelief at two tiny pink lines on a pregnancy test, it’s too late for family-planning discussions of clinical effectiveness. We’ve got a baby to take care of. And his mother.
This is where all our pro-life and pro-family talk needs to be put into action. This is where we need to rush to the aid and support of a family in need. Are we a pro-life Church? This is where we will find out.
“I just found out that I am pregnant with my third baby in three years,” one frazzled young mother wrote to me recently, “and I dread the way my friends, my family, and even the people at my parish will respond.”
“I am pregnant again and I really am excited,” another mother wrote to me, “I want this baby, but I am not sure I want to tell people because it seems like so many people, even faithful Catholics, just don’t get why you would be excited to have your fourth baby in five years.”
“Soon after I announced that we were (unexpectedly) pregnant with our eighth child,” an older mom once wrote me, “I came out of Mass one day and found an NFP flyer tucked under the windshield wiper of my van. I even wondered if it was our pastor who put it there.”
Whether we love NFP or hate it, whether we choose to use it in our marriages or not, whether we have one child or 16 children, we Catholics have no business receiving new life with anything but charity and joy. We have no business labeling our fellow Catholics, in their time of need and vulnerability, as crazy or irresponsible.
It takes courage for many Catholic couples to continue to refuse contraception, to remain open to life in their marriages, even when their circumstances are already difficult and they are hoping to avoid another pregnancy. The “99 percent effective” number people like to throw around about NFP becomes a much smaller one when translated into “user effectiveness.”
The fact is, sometimes even faithful Catholics who are doing their very best to avoid pregnancy while remaining faithful to Church teaching on openness to life will find themselves pregnant.
The jokes, the judgment, and the whispered conversations about “craziness” and “irresponsibility” have no place in our parishes and in our Catholic communities.
Over the years, I’ve done my fair share of staring in disbelief at tiny pink lines in the bathroom. Once, a few years ago, when I told a friend of a new and unplanned pregnancy and expressed to her my ambivalent feelings, her response to me was a simple, joyful exclamation:
“God must love you so much!”
Her words startled me. Not only because most people’s reactions to my latest news had been somewhat less than joyful, but also because of how true I knew those words were, deep down inside, in spite of my doubts and fears.
When God gives us babies, planned or unplanned, He gives us innumerable physical, emotional, and spiritual challenges. But He also gives us a glimpse of Himself. It’s God’s face we see in a helpless baby’s smile. It’s God’s voice we hear in their needy cries, and it’s God’s enormous love we feel wrapped around us when we nurture them within us, when we hold their infant bodies, when we accept them as He sends them, whether it was part of “our plan” or not.
Because she said “yes” to God, Mary once found herself poor, alone, misunderstood, and pregnant. But she wasn’t irresponsible — only faithful. Even though it was hard.
Will we abandon pregnant mothers in their time of need? Will we shame them, shun them, and laugh at them behind their backs?
Or will we remind them how much God loves them, remind ourselves of the abundant, undeserved blessings He has given every one of us, and simply be grateful?