Many years ago, when I was a young priest, I received a call from a woman who wanted to meet with me. She was relatively young. She met a man and became pregnant. The father of this unborn child quickly left the scene. As a result, this young expectant woman was for all practical purposes facing her pregnancy alone. She met with me over a series of meetings. She knew that she herself could not handle a child physically or financially as she had little income. She didn’t know what to do. In the end, she looked me in the eye and said, “Fr. Dave, I am going to have this baby but I want you to find good Catholic parents.”
Well, as fate would have it, there was a couple who, for years, had been trying to have a child but without success. With the mother’s permission and in a spirit of anonynomity, I called this couple to gauge their interest. This was not as simple as saying ‘yes’ because there are parental rights which are not terminated until almost a year after the child is born. The wild card in all of this was the father. Would he reenter the picture? And what about the mother, could she possibly change her mind after bringing the child to full term? To facilitate this adoption process the couple hired an attorney.
As the mother went into labor, I called the expectant couple. Together we all waited and prayed. Eventually, I got the call. A child was born. Mother and child were fine. The next day the biological mother left the hospital while the expectant couple and I traveled to the hospital. We were welcomed into a waiting room by a nurse. Moments later, the nurse brought the newborn in to our presence. The adopting mother cried tears of joy and the adopting father called the child by name and said, “It’s your daddy.”
With the prospect of life, especially a fetus, comes responsibility and sacrifice. In this particular case, the biological mother not only embraced life but accepted the overwhelming sense of responsibility and sacrifice as she carried the baby to full term. Even though she eventually gave the baby up to adoption, she chose life. Today, that baby is a happy young person with two very loving parents who never thought they would ever have that joy.
The decision this young woman faced is one that many people face every day. Faced with the overwhelming responsibility that comes with life, some couples choose abortion. According to the Guttmacher Intstitute there were a reported 1.2million abortions in our country in 2005. Nine in ten abortions occur in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. Seventy- eight percent report a religious affiliation of some kind.
When we look at these statistics, it is very tempting for us to be silent. What can we possibly say? What can we do? The other tendency we face is to become judgmental of those who have committed abortions. The reality is, however, that those who commit an abortion are our brothers and sisters. What is more, any abortion is a painful moment that involves grief and suffering. If we are really pro-life there is only one adequate response: we need to be people of compassion, healing, and forgiveness.
In today’s gospel, Jesus says, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Jesus issues that invitation to you and to me. To come after him is to be people of compassion, healing and forgiveness. The people who make these decisions to terminate a life are not bad per se. They are simply misguided. Here in Pittsburgh, there is a wonderful program for men and women struggling in the aftermath of an abortion called Project Rachel. It is a post-abortion ministry whereby both woman and men can find healing. It is a place where Isaiah’s prophecy from today’s first reading is realized: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone.” Feel free to contact me for more information.
Let’s get back to the numbers for a moment. Why are there so many abortions? How can this happen in our day and age? Well it seems to me that so many abortions are the result of an unintended pregnancy. The concern here is that convenience is becoming more and more the guiding force in life. And yet, the Christian life is not about convenience but commitment even to the extent of sacrifice and forgiveness. Both of these realities are expressed so clearly and cogently on the cross as Jesus suffers and says, “Father forgive them for they know not what they are doing.”
My brothers and sisters, none of us can say we are pro life without being people of compassion, healing and forgiveness. As we mark the anniversary of the Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion, let us pray for an end to abortion. But let us also pray that we might always strive in our thoughts, words and deeds to be people of compassion, healing and forgiveness, for in the end, that is what it means to come after Jesus. Inevitably, it means picking up our cross and loving one another as he loves us.