Witnesses for Life

We’d been through it all before. An ultrasound showed that our unborn child had died. Baby Monica was the fifth baby we had lost in utero, the others being Perpetua, Felicity, Raymond, and Barnabas. Yet this time was different.

The miscarriage developed sudden and severe complications. Maureen was rushed via ambulance from the doctor's office to the emergency room. She nearly bled to death. As it was, despite emergency surgery and two blood transfusions, she was left with a constant, high-pitched ringing in her ears that was likely caused by a lack of oxygen to the brain during this traumatic episode. She also received a permanent injury to her jaw when she was intubated by the anesthesiologist.

Most women in our contraceptive, secular culture would have had the “good sense” to “stop at two.” They would not have gone through what happened to Maureen. Those of us with larger families are well aware of the gratuitous, uncomplimentary comments that family, friends, and even total strangers at grocery stores feel obliged to make about our life choices, even though the Church “sees in large families a sign of God's blessing and the parents' generosity” (Catechism, no. 2373).

And while Maureen for the most part received excellent, compassionate care following this miscarriage, there were some not-so-subtle reminders of our society's values, from the rolled eyes of the ambulance driver when told that this was Maureen's ninth pregnancy, to the ER doctor who asked me about finally “getting her tubes tied.”

Maureen intellectually accepts and obeys the Church's teachings on marital intimacy and the dignity of human life. She has also given her time to pro-life causes and has been supportive of young couples who have struggled with ordering their marriage in accordance with God's plan. And for the past ten years she has been the primary caregiver for my elderly mother.

Yet her most eloquent statement on behalf of human life was made while lying semi-conscious on a hospital bed with various tubes stuck in her. While she assuredly did not go looking for suffering, she literally was proclaiming the Gospel of Life with her own blood, evangelizing me and everyone at the hospital in the process.

“The blood of the martyrs is the seed of Christians.” Pope John Paul II applies this ancient maxim to the situation today, as he fully expects a great harvest or “springtime” of holiness and fidelity in the new millennium.

Where, we might ask, is the seed in our own backyard? After all, our government is only executing convicted criminals (that's bad enough!), and not Christians per se.

I think of the victims already claimed by the “culture of death” in our country, especially the millions of babies who have been killed with government approval since the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973. I also think of the elderly and terminally ill, as we stave off the relentless push for legalized euthanasia.

But I also think of the everyday witnesses for life that surround us. I think of Maureen and all the heroic women who choose life even at great personal sacrifice. I think of pro-life physicians who courageously put their beliefs into practice. And I think of all the “hidden martyrs” who, in their own journey of faith, experience suffering that is truly salvific. Their quiet fidelity is building up the Church in our midst and ushering in a new generation of saints.

Because we're Christians, people are watching us very closely. They are not so much interested in our spouting of Church teaching, or even in our explicitly pro-life work. What they want to see are people who take what they say home with them. Do our lives back up our words? Do we really believe what we profess? As witnesses to the Gospel of Life, we must continually call ourselves back to the fundamental truth that at the heart of the Gospel is not an ideology or a moral code, but a person, Jesus Christ. Our Lord is alive in us through faith and the sacraments, and our mission is nothing other than to be Christ's ambassadors to the world, offering hope and reconciliation in His name.

Leon J. Suprenant, Jr. is the president of Catholics United for the Faith (CUF) and Emmaus Road Publishing and the editor-in-chief of Lay Witness magazine, all based in Steubenville, Ohio. He is a contributor to Catholic for a Reason III: Scripture and the Mystery of the Mass and an adviser to CE’s Catholic Scripture Study. His email address is leon@cuf.org.

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