My dear friend,
Remember the evenings we spent together in a small room in a parish hall? Our kids were playing in a room next door and we gathered together every Thursday night, a bunch of moms trying to sort out how to raise these little ones. We would read the gospel and then learn about parenting through the teachings of the Church in our FAMILIA program. We were all full of questions we didn’t have the answers to and a real openness to learn together. You were 41 and had your first child, a beautiful 10 month old baby in your arms.
Do you remember the night that the room became quiet with a very full silence as we came to understand together the words of John Paul II and Paul VI? We had been awed by the beauty of the truth about how intimately God loved us that was exposed by the paternal words of the pope. In the way John Paul II spoke of marriage and family, we saw all the desires of our hearts painted before us. In the understanding of the beauty of life and how precious it is to God, we knew at once the deep sacredness of our children. And in the gently but powerfully written words of Humane Vitae that told us why contraception, abortion and artificial reproduction wounded these beautiful truths, our breath was taken away. You looked up and tried unsuccessfully to hold back your tears as you said “I never knew… how come I never knew?” Tears filled all of our eyes as we each resonated deeply with your question. Our breath was taken away by the mix of beauty, truth and remorse we all experienced.
This morning my Facebook feed held a chilling surprise. A company in Australia had come up with the ‘loving solution’ to the problem of what to do with unwanted embryos conceived through IVF. Reading this article, my heart was heavy, and my indignation for the lack of respect for the lives of these children turned into jewelry made my blood pressure rise. Comments on the article were full of sadness and outrage… rightfully so… But reflecting on the article, I had to wonder, how did we get here?
And then I thought about us in that room, seeing truths so beautiful that they hurt our eyes because they shed light on dark places, wounds, we had covered up in ourselves. These weren’t the first tears we had cried in our lives over love, sex, babies or sin, but they were perhaps our first tears of healing in a journey of discovering ourselves and our true dignity.
As young woman, you had cried over the dilemma of having a physical relationship with someone but not being ready for a child. Everyone was doing it. It was expected. There was no one there to tell you about how sacred the physical bond is, that it is so beautiful it needs to be enshrined in marriage and open to the gifts that come from it. Instead, you were told to own your sexuality. To protect yourself from diseases and children and to experiment physically both in ‘committed relationships’ and in situations where you were searching for worth and relevance with someone you really didn’t know. And the lies hurt you. The lies didn’t deliver love and fulfillment, they delivered wounds and scars. But those could be buried. For a while.
Continuing in life, you succeed at school, launched your career, travelled, lived the life of success your parents and the world around you encouraged you to reach for. Still seeking fulfillment, still seeking worth, still seeking love. Eventually, settling down. Finding the one you hoped, though skeptically, would share your life forever. You weren’t sure whether or not to get married, jaded by the failed marriage of your parents and friends. But you did. Fearing failure but hoping against it.
Together, you searched for more. For a child. The God-given human desire to love and be loved in family life was built into you. After a few years you gave up your birth control and started shopping for maternity clothes. You both had been raised to believe that you could achieve what you want, when you want, according to your own plan. People looked up to you for how you did this in your careers, adventures and friendships. After a few months came the reality that you couldn’t conceive a child on your own. For a couple who has been applauded their whole life for doing whatever it takes to be successful in the eyes of the world, using IVF to conceive a child was a no-brainer. And now that little one slept in your arms. Your precious child.
And we cried together, in a small room in a parish hall, talking vulnerably about a beautiful truth you had never heard. We cried for our decisions, for the emptiness we had experienced. And you cried over the paradox of having a child you love fiercely who was conceived in IVF before you ever knew it was an issue. You cried for the children you had let die, truly not knowing they were more than ‘potential babies’. Only God could heal wounds this deep.
How could someone turn their unborn babies into jewelry? You understand how. You have seen how the lies around us distort the truth. You know how it is in very small steps that we go from desiring love, to sex, to building life on our terms, to having babies by any means possible…. to trying to fill that unending emptiness with unborn lives turned into pieces of jewelry. Somehow these mothers can’t bring themselves to throw these children away. In a very conflicted and confused way, they both recognize and deny the value of these children.
How did we get here? You know deeply, in the way that only one who suffers knows. In Humanae Vitae Paul VI tells us that if we believe the lie that we can have sex without procreation, then we can also have procreation without sex. Through tears, we sat and read and discussed these words, this encyclical together. We each brought our deep sense of guilt, our emptiness, tears and regret to Our Lord. In truth and in mercy we found the love and fulfillment we had searched for for decades.
I haven’t seen you for more than 10 years, but I thought of you today. I know you would say “Why didn’t they know? Why didn’t anyone tell them?”… And I feel regret again, but this time because I wonder if I am doing enough to bring these beautiful truths to others who are seeking love. It’s so easy to read an article and judge the culture and these depraved outcomes of a lack of morality. But what am I going to do the next time I run into someone just like we were 10 years ago? I hope we both can walk with others the same way we walked together, and ask our Lord to bring light to this broken world instead of just cursing the darkness.