My son was due to be born this week. For a few months now, I’ve been driving by the cemetery where we buried him, occasionally visiting him, each time a reminder of that life that was and could have been. As we commemorate the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, and we remember all the lives that have been snuffed out through the evil of abortion, my son is for me a visceral reminder both of what has been lost and the hope we have in Christ.
A favorite Scripture passage in my household is from the first letter of John. “We love because he first loved us.” Parents who live out this foundational Christian principle in their families and with their children are the face of God to them. In an unbroken world, children–these wonderful and complete gifts from God–are born of the love of a mother and father who have committed themselves to each other in the promise of an extraordinary love that is nothing short of Divine. Ubi caritas est vera, Deus ibi est.
By grace, parents live in the river of God’s love; at our best, we bear God’s love to our children. Every now and then, when I feel like I’ve come up for air amid all the opportunities to grow in patience and humility, it is just so clear how blessed parents are, how blessed I am to be able to share in God’s love in such an “incarnational” way.
As my heart prepared to welcome a fourth child into my life, it grew. Somehow God makes it possible to continue growing our capacity for love, and his love was growing in me just as I was growing in love for my son. And this is the way it should be.
But sadly, for me and for so many other mothers and fathers, our growth in love can often be cut short, because of oppressive fear and anxiety, because of inexpressible pain and suffering, because of a medical catastrophe. When our infinite God breaks through into our lives and gives us this beautiful and fragile gift of love, we can touch the divine and feel him within us. But then, something happens and that gift is gone. My son is not the only child in his cemetery. There are dozens of babies and young children buried there, each leaving behind families who are torn apart by loss. And this is just a fraction of those lost to abortion and miscarriage.
“Loss” is a word that just doesn’t cut it. How could I lose what was never “mine” to begin with? The word “loss” awkwardly conveys this notion that the love I had for my son, the love I was prepared to give him, could somehow be contained in his styrofoam coffin that’s no bigger than an infant shoe box. In truth, it feels like something much more profoundly painful. Where I was prepared to share the infinite love that I receive from God with him, now there is a feeling of infinite grief and despair.
After time had passed, it became easier to admit to myself that grief is good. Grief is a reminder that we were given something beautiful and wonderful. While this memory is interlaced with pain and suffering, the fact is that the more we appreciate what was, we necessarily feel more pain by its absence. It’s like what Pope Benedict wrote in Spe Salvi,
It is when we attempt to avoid suffering by withdrawing from anything that might involve hurt, when we try to spare ourselves the effort and pain of pursuing truth, love, and goodness, that we drift into a life of emptiness, in which there may be almost no pain, but the dark sensation of meaninglessness and abandonment is all the greater.
May we all grieve, especially in this difficult time, during this awful anniversary! May we all grieve the millions of children and unborn, like my son, who were never able to see God in the faces of his loving parents. Grieve like Jesus did who wept at the news of his friend’s death. Grieve like Mary and Apostles during those frightful days after Jesus’ death. Pope Francis said during his Easter Vigil homily in 2017, “In their grief, those two women reflect the faces of all those who, walking the streets of our cities, behold human dignity crucified.” But remember — these stories from Scripture also contain hope, the sign that God is still with us, for all who are willing to trust in his love and in his promises.
Eugene Burnand’s painting of Peter and John running to the tomb on Easter morning beautifully conveys this tension between grief and hope. Practical Peter, looks concerned–perhaps that graverobbers have taken Jesus’ body. His face, lined with wrinkles, appears burdened by his fear and worry. In contrast, we see John, with barely a beard, his hands folded as if in prayer. Whatever worry we might see in his face melts gradually into hopeful and anxious anticipation.
This contrast is made clear by the details of the painting. Peter’s dark cloak hangs around him, bulky and burdensome, not unlike the dark tomb they are racing to examine. Even in this moment, it appears that Peter will not let go of the old rules of death–his hold on his pain and grief symbolically represented by his attempt to hold on to his dark cloak. Conversely, John is dressed in a light, white robe, more slender and slight, his profile enhanced by the bright morning sunrise that surrounds him like a warm embrace from Jesus. We know from Scripture, of course, who won this race.
God gives us hope and courage to face our daily struggles and sufferings. Hope raises our eyes and lifts our burdens, because when we trust in God’s promise we no longer carry our burdens alone. Rather, we grieve with Christ who himself grieved and yet redeemed all pain and suffering in his own suffering, death, and Resurrection. Pope Benedict writes, “It is not by sidestepping or fleeing from suffering that we are healed, but rather by our capacity for accepting it, maturing through it and finding meaning through union with Christ, who suffered with infinite love.” The Christian paradox is that by entering more deeply into our pain and suffering with Christ, the more fully Christ can unite it to himself and save us from it.
This world is filled with pain, an unexpressed grief for the tens of millions of unborn children, like my son, who have died and who were loved by God. As we remember the anniversary of that fateful supreme court ruling, we should remember that our responsibility as Christians on this matter is two-fold. First, we must help our country grieve by reminding them of the value of what has been lost: tens of millions of lives, each an inbreaking of God’s love in this world. Secondly, as we help our country grieve, we must also provide hope. We must break into the darkness in the lives of those around us and share their burdens just as Jesus has shared ours. This is the path to uprooting the evil of abortion from our country and our hearts, once and for all.