What I Saw on Respect Life Sunday

My heart was heavy when my husband and I brought our four children to Mass on the first Sunday of October. I had just learned that a few people whom I dearly love were supporting a notorious pro-abortion organization. Images of the violence happening in this organization’s abortion clinics haunted me, and I agonized over my loved ones’ choices.

At Mass, I stood in the back, comforting our baby, tracing his sweet face and picturing—aching for—the precious children lost through abortion and the dear mothers who never got to see their babies’ faces.

I glanced out at the congregation, and in the last row, on two separate sides, a striking parallel emerged. Two visibly disabled girls—one to the left, and one to the right—stood wrapped in the arms of their mothers. In tandem, the mothers, each unaware of the other, cuddled and pulled their daughters close. I looked from one to the other, reveling in the tangible grace and supernatural beauty of the One Love that synchronized their actions.

Then, through the doors near me, a father wheeled his disabled teenaged son into Mass. The man stopped, leaned over his son from behind, and embraced him. The son moaned—the first of many moans and groans he would utter throughout the next hour. They sat near the back, and I stood behind them, mesmerized by the scene that unfolded before me. The sacrificial love that poured forth from this father for his son, and back again, echoed the divine mystery taking place on the altar.

Bags of supporting gear hung from his wheelchair frame, and it was clear that the boy could neither speak nor help himself. He moaned, drooled, and stretched his arms out toward his father’s neck. In response, his father reached out and hugged the boy again and again. He cupped his hand around the back of his son’s misshapen head, pressed his wrinkled forehead against his son’s scarred one, and, smiling, gazed into his eyes with a light of love so beatific that my own eyes filled with tears. I imagined his gaze was a mirror image of the way the Heavenly Father Himself would have looked at the boy—or at any one of us, His children.

As I stood there, rocking my child to sleep, other mothers and fathers came and went, holding toddlers’ hands, patting babies’ backs, letting little ones stretch their legs. And I thought: How blessed we are! How blessed we are to be a part of this Church that welcomes every human life, that values people whether they are old or young, healthy or sick, able-bodied or disabled; whether they communicate with eloquent words, baby babble, or guttural groans.

Later, on the way home, it hit me: This was Respect Life Sunday. And I had just spent Mass surrounded by a cloud of witnesses who proclaimed the message, “Respect life!” without saying a single word. It made my heart soar; yet it also illuminated the disparity between what I had just experienced and the battle I’d been in with my loved ones. The light was so bright; why couldn’t I help my loved ones to come out of the darkness and see it?

That afternoon, my husband and I brought our children to the Life Chain, an annual event held on Respect Life Sunday, where parishioners stand along the city’s main street, holding signs and praying for an end to abortion and all its devastating consequences. Our oldest son held the homemade sign we always bring: “Babies are Precious.” We lined up on the sidewalk; I pulled out my rosary, and we began to pray aloud. By the first Our Father, my four-year-old was tugging at my rosary.

“I want to do something with it!” he insisted, pulling it out of my hands. I reluctantly let him have it, figuring that at least it would keep him entertained while we prayed.

When I looked down, he was indeed “doing something with it.” He had taken the Crucifix in his little hand and was holding it out towards the street, facing the cars that passed. Watching him, I marveled: Yes. That’s what people need. They need to see Jesus. We stood there, praying decade after decade, and this small child—who usually abounds with unbridled energy—quietly stood and showed people Jesus.

“[W]hoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child,” that morning’s Gospel from Mark had said, “will not enter it.” This child was accepting the kingdom of God in his little hand, and turning it outward to show Jesus to the world. In order for me to accept the kingdom like this child, what I needed to do was to turn and show Jesus to the world, too.

The people around me at Mass seemed to already know this secret. When they placed their arms around their children, stroked their matted hair, wiped the drool from their mouths, and smiled into faces that could not smile back, I saw Jesus. And I felt His love.

If I begin to worry about how to reach my loved ones with this message—Cherish life! Treasure every person!—then perhaps what I need to do is to worry less, and love more. Jesus is waiting in the hands of my child, and of every person, especially those who need the most care. In reaching for those hands, I can hold His—and then, with God’s mercy, I can show Him to the world. And I can pray with all my heart that my loved ones will meet Him there.

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Maura Roan McKeegan is an award-winning author of twelve Catholic children’s books. Her most recent titles include Julia Greeley, Secret Angel to the Poor (Magnificat-Ignatius Press), In This Catholic Church (OSV), Peter and Jesus by a Charcoal Fire (Emmaus Road), and Seven Clues: A Catholic Treasure Hunt (Loyola Press), co-authored with Scott Hahn. She is also a contributor for various magazines. She has a special interest in Servant of God Don Dolindo Ruotolo and writes about him at her new Substack site, Stories of Don Dolindo (https://mauraroanmckeegan.substack.com/).You can contact her at Maura.Roan.McKeegan(at)gmail(dot)com.

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