Quiet enfolds the home like a soft blanket holding the family in its warm embrace. Soft breathing emanates from every bedroom as the family sleeps and dreams.
A scream suddenly rips the blanket of silence, shattering the peaceful night. Without hesitation, the mother leaps out of bed and rushes to her child’s room. No need to sit up and wonder about the sound, a mother knows her children’s voices even in her sleep. In a heartbeat, she is cradling her child in her arms, pouring the love straight from her heart into him, hoping to cover him with her loving reassurance.
Nightmares may not be real threats, but the fear feels real to a child. Nightmares are not limited to our childhood years, and panic can seem just as real to an adult, especially when the nightmares are not in our dreams.
Our biggest fears often attack during the day as we worry about the future, especially during these uncertain times. People have lost their jobs. Companies have closed temporarily, maybe permanently. No paychecks mean savings accounts are being depleted in order to pay for the necessities of food and rent. How long will this last? What will we do if it continues much longer?
Now, throw an unexpected pregnancy into the list of worries. Every pregnancy brings changes into a woman’s and a family’s life, whether the pregnancy is joyfully anticipated or unexpectedly jolts the very foundation of the woman’s life. Imagine family members jumping up and down in excitement versus the ground trembling beneath a woman’s feet as an earthquake-sized panic tears apart her future plans while adding to the struggles of the current uncertainty. What will she do? Who can she turn to for help?
Sadly, abortion has been legalized for over forty-seven years. Women of child-bearing age have never known a time when abortion was not a legal and socially acceptable solution for what has become known as a problem pregnancy. As a result, the more commonly known remedy is provided by those who offer a “quick and easy” solution, followed by lifelong pain and regret. Abortion fights against the body’s natural protection systems as well as tearing a hole in the fiber of a woman’s nature.
An interesting reality of womanhood becomes evident when a woman realizes she is pregnant. Maybe not immediately when the pregnancy test reveals a positive result because she is sometimes in a fog of confusion and denial. However, when the truth of her pregnancy hits home, a woman’s initial reaction is to place her hand against her abdomen. She is not grabbing her stomach lest she become sick, although that can also be a symptom. No, her womanly instinct, her natural act of motherly protection, automatically reaches to cradle and protect the life within her. God’s design for motherhood is flawless.
Once a woman sees her preborn baby alive and moving on an ultrasound screen, she instinctively feels a rush of hope, sometimes mixed with fear and anxiety, but especially hope. Is my baby all right? How will I provide for him or her? What will I tell my parents or partner? Is that really my baby’s tiny heart beating? Ribbons of hope and worry will always be looped together to form the bow that ties God’s love to the natural temperament of motherhood, no matter how young or old our children are.
Hope is a fundamental part of motherhood. Hope is the flame that burns in a mother’s heart. Hope for the child’s health. Hope for a good future for him. Hope for a satisfying career for her. Hope that our children will be happy. Our children soon grow up, move away and build good lives of their own. But then the phone rings and a mother hears that tiny inflection in her child’s voice. Worry invades her heart, but hope conquers every fear so that she is able to do whatever she needs to do to help her child. Hope keeps a mother going, nourishing her for whatever battle she must endure to protect her child.
However, what happens if the panic and the fear drive her to accept that abortion will end the problem which she is being manipulated into seeing her pregnancy to be? The flame of hope is being suffocated by the lies that she is not already a mother, that her baby is not already alive, moving, growing and developing according to God’s plan.
Hope flickers and sputters within her heart, waiting for someone to breathe fresh air and love into her heart to show that she is also a child of God and that she is loved for who she is, not because she can be profitable for the abortion clinic. If she is offered true and loving assistance to remedy the underlying difficulties that have caused her to panic, she can recognize that the baby was never the real problem. She can then overcome whatever obstacles lie along the path to creating a good and happy life for both herself and her child.
Kindling that flame of hope in her heart illuminates the path she can now clearly see. But so often in uncertain times like today, it takes someone else to light the way for her so that she can distinguish between love and lies, between help and greed, between hope and despair. Which are we willing to offer to a woman and her preborn child? If she were our own daughter, would we nourish the flame of hope in her heart and assist her in becoming the strong woman we know her to be. Or would we extinguish her inner strength and convince her that she is too weak?
A flame of hope burns brightly in God’s heart as well. He hopes that we choose to help a woman in need, to rescue a child in danger, and to light flames of love and hope in all our hearts.
These are unsettling times. A pandemic of disease and fear walk hand in hand through the streets. A nation and a world shut down, businesses and stores either closed or operating on a limited basis. Saddest of all, even the churches are forced to close their doors to avoid spreading the disease even more.
Everyone recognizes the fearful facts: social distancing, the choice of being “six feet apart or six feet under,” caring for loved ones without infecting others or becoming infected ourselves. Then, there are also the realities of life: essential versus non-essential jobs, financial hardship from the inability to go to work, no paychecks, bills that still need to be paid, fear of what tomorrow will bring and how long this pandemic will last or even if we have enough toilet paper for the duration.
Yet, there is hope and there is courage. Stories abound of people helping strangers, volunteers setting up food banks, neighbors checking on each other, people grocery shopping for the elderly and those who cannot get out themselves, individuals donating food, supplies or resources to others in need, and even those who spread hope through uplifting messages chalked on sidewalks. In the midst of disaster, most people will rise to the challenge and lift others up rather than being self-centered and uncaring.
Typically, people simply need to be asked or to be made aware of a need that is within their power to alleviate. Think back eight months to the horrific tragedy of August 3rd. There were people who rushed toward those who needed help. Of course, our first instinct is survival and safety, but even as we are running out the door, most of us will grab a person who is stumbling and support them so they can flee alongside of us. After the tragedy, El Pasoans united to support one another by donating and caring for others’ physical needs.
Compassion, kindness, empathy and charity are the stronger emotions within humanity, but we often need to be reminded of not only the presence of need but also the ways we can personally help out. Today and throughout the duration of this pandemic, it is essential that we respond with the strengths inside of us rather than give in to the weakness of panic and isolationism.
We have a unique opportunity this month when it is possible that we will be commemorating the Passion of Christ in our own homes instead of in church. Easter Sunday may dawn without the Easter lilies trumpeting the good news of salvation across the altars of our parishes. But wherever we celebrate Holy Week and Easter, we must remember that the Catholic Church is not a building made of brick and mortar. WE are the Church, Jesus Christ living in each of His children, in each of us, in our neighbors, in our family members, and in every baby conceived by Almighty God within the secrecy of a mother’s womb.
During this pandemic, let us consider an important question: How will we celebrate the very essence of our faith? Easter recalls the resurrection of Jesus Christ and His victory over sin and death. Let’s welcome Him into our hearts by going forth and imitating His love for us.
Let’s respond with love to those around us who are burdened under a heavy cross. Let’s offer to ease another’s burden especially in this time of crisis, when paychecks may not be received, when jobs are unsure, when the future is scary and uncertain, and a ray of hope is difficult to find.
Or would we rather imitate those who ran away and hid from our Lord in His time of trial and crisis? Will we run away and hide from the innocent baby who is being threatened with death at the hands of the abortionist? How many times will we deny that we even know Him? Through apathy or ignorance, will we deny that we know the scientific truth as well as the Church’s teaching that human life begins at the moment of conception?
How will WE who are the Church respond to those in need? Crisis Pregnancy Centers, Guiding Star and Southwest Coalition for Life are seeing an increase in women considering abortion because those who feed on panic and insecurity offer the quick and easy solution of death to those who need hope. What will we offer to her?
Even if a woman experiencing an unexpected pregnancy wanted to hold onto a glimmer of hope, this pandemic may have robbed her of a paycheck or cast her into a situation of such uncertainty that she cannot see past the panic to find a ray of hope. A month or so ago, a woman in a crisis pregnancy may have thought she could possibly weather the storm but now her pregnancy becomes an insurmountable obstacle that she does not feel she can overcome. Do we help her or do we run away?
Let us grab hold of that inner strength that comes from our faith. Let us imitate Jesus in His love for us and spread the hope of Easter to those who also carry a heavy cross. Let’s show the world that WE are the Church who reaches out beyond the brick and mortar walls and shares Christ’s love with those in need. Let us share in Christ’s victory over death by rescuing the women and their preborn children from pain and death. We can bring Easter to the world by witnessing to the truth of life, by assisting women who will believe in hope through our help and support. Let’s bring Easter’s light where there is darkness. Who will light the way?
As a small child many years ago, I approached the Lenten season by asking, “What should I give up?” No more cookies after school, no desserts, no fighting with my younger brother (although that rarely worked out for long), no television, no gossip, no misbehavior of any kind (again, a hard one after a few days). I believed such examples of “giving up” were real and important sacrifices which I presented as gifts to God.
In later years, the popular practice of giving something up was set aside, and people were encouraged to do something more. Rather than taking away something we enjoyed from our lives, we were supposed to find something better to add to it. Praying the rosary, reading the Bible, attending weekly adoration, or participating in daily mass. Again, these extra activities were sacrifices offered up to God.
When I pray the rosary on my commute to work, I feel a comfortable closeness to Jesus by spending that extra time with Him. Meditating on the holy mysteries also allows me to associate Christ’s difficulties with the daily trials of people around me, and I pray for those going through their own agonies or who need help in their marriages or who need a reminder to look upward to transfigure the focus of their lives toward God. But there is still something lacking in my Lenten journey.
I miss the strength I receive through the repeated giving up of something I enjoy. It may sound silly to say out loud, but by successfully and repeatedly resisting the urge to eat that cookie, I feel emboldened to realize that I also have the inner strength to resist the temptation of something larger or more important. Maybe I do have the strength to refrain from arguing with a family member, or to resist the urge to gossip, or to take a deep breath and walk away from people whose attitudes are stumbling blocks on my path to the Lord. The combination of doing more of what is good and giving up what are even just small sacrifices gives me strength and a renewed closeness to our Lord.
But, how does this Lenten sacrifice combination relate to our efforts of imitating the love of Jesus on the sidewalks of El Paso? Because Jesus did the same thing over and over again for us. Think of the example of His forty days in the desert where He fasted, giving up food, and He prayed. Although the devil tried his best to tempt Him, Jesus was strengthened, not weakened, by His fasting and His prayers. He resisted temptation. Jesus did both giving up and adding more.
Jesus gave up everything to become a human being. Giving up His place in Heaven to suffer and die for people who He knew would continue in their sinful ways was not an encouraging reason to become human. But Jesus agreed to come into the world as a tiny baby and grow up to be a man who would give strength and hope to those who need Him and want to follow in His way.
Acting as His messengers today, we can share God’s strength and hope with those who need Him. We can help women in crisis pregnancies to give up the lure of the supposedly easy fix of abortion by offering them more – more of our love. We can help women to see that their current situation does not need to be a crisis, and, instead, to see that they are strong enough to give up that feeling of crisis by saying yes to the miracle of life growing within them. We can ease their difficulties in the form of practical assistance, medical care, and whatever support they need to give up despair and accept life.
How? Fortunately, we don’t have to do it all. There are wonderful, supportive groups that are already organized and ready to give support to pregnant women, new mothers, fathers and families who need their help. Our sacrifices can help these groups to help others in the same way that Jesus sent out his disciples to help others.
First, we need to give up our apathy. Give up our willingness to let others save the mothers and their preborn babies who are threatened by abortion. Give up our comfort zone of closing our eyes to the real and unmistakable horrors being inflicted upon the tiny babies and the women who do not know where to turn. Only then, can we offer any real sacrifice to our Lord. When we open our hearts to the truth and God’s light, we will find ways to help pregnant mothers who are lost in a lonely desert.
There are as many ways to help as there are people willing to try. Loose pocket change can be deposited in a box each day and donated to Southwest Coalition for Life. Our children will recognize the sanctity of life when we take them shopping and let them choose baby clothes and supplies to be donated. Collecting diapers, formula and other necessities by hosting a baby shower for Project Gabriel or our parish Reverence for Life groups is a practical way to assist mothers in need. Rather than going out for a nice restaurant dinner, we can donate to Guiding Star the money that we would have spent. Giving up one specialty coffee each week of Lent would mean at least $30 ($5 times six weeks) available to donate to pro-life groups who give away all that they receive to those in need. By searching our hearts, we can find our own personal way to do more and offer that small sacrifice to our Lord.
The question is, “Will we give up remaining in our comfort zone and actively do more to help God’s precious children – both mothers and babies?” If we won’t, who will?