On the privilege of loving those with special needs
When my mom was a few months pregnant with me, she almost miscarried. Afterwards, she was put on bed rest for the next three months of her pregnancy. She was allowed to leave her bed only to shower and use the bathroom, which, to be honest, sounds utterly miserable. But she fought for me, and so I am here today.
I am one of twelve children, but seven have been lost to miscarriage and stillbirth. There has been a lot of death in my family. And so, when my youngest brother Tommy was born and he had Down syndrome, we didn't care about that diagnosis; we were simply overcome with joy that he was healthy, and alive, and here.
Currently, anywhere from 60- to almost 100% of children given prenatal diagnoses of Down syndrome are aborted worldwide. These are children who were "wanted" and desired, right until that moment that their parents found out about the possibility of disability.
Here's the thing: women destroy their children because they are afraid. In the case of Down syndrome, they are often afraid because of what the doctor tells them. When my parents were pregnant with Tommy, the doctors painted a bleak picture of Down syndrome: a child who might never learn to read, or communicate, or be independent. All of that was outdated, and frankly, ableist misinformation.
Whether or not a disability is involved, the root cause of abortion is always fear.
But whether or not a disability is involved, the root cause of abortion is always fear. Society tells women that they are not strong enough to go to school and be a mother, or to work and have a child. And so women become afraid that they cannot handle the responsibility, or the financial burden, or the million little things that are part of raising any child.
And yes, caring for a child, especially one with special needs, is difficult. My brother can't eat solid food; he has behavioral issues; he struggles with many of the day-to-day tasks that able people don't think twice about. But he is happy, and he makes my whole family's lives better just by being.
I am pro-life because where some might look at my brother and see a burden, I see a privilege. It is a privilege to love him, and to care for him, and to help him fight his battles.
Dr. Jérôme Lejeune, the French geneticist who discovered the cause of Down syndrome, said that "The quality of a civilization can be measured by the respect it has for its weakest members. There is no other criterion." End quote.
I am pro-life because my mother fought for me when I could not fight for myself. She gave me the power and the responsibility to fight for my brother and for all of the weak and vulnerable members of humanity. I am pro-life because I think that women and their children deserve better than fear and violence; they deserve to be empowered, to be given life, to be fought for! And am pro-life because I believe that individual human lives have value and dignity not because of what we can do but because of who we are: we are made to love and to be loved, to care and to be cared for.
Individual human lives have value and dignity not because of what we can do but because of who we are: we are made to love and to be loved, to care and to be cared for.
Caroline O'Callaghan is a junior from South Bend, currently living in Badin Hall. She is studying Studio Art and Theology.
How marching for life, and leading the march, helped me see what it is to be pro-life.
I was first introduced to the pro-life movement in the seventh grade. A representative from a pro-life organization in Texas came to speak to our youth group and advocate for our own local march for life. The event was to be held at the local park, and all of us middle schoolers were asked to fundraise for the cause, and more importantly, for the pizza and t shirts at the march. Looking back now, it seems I have not changed much: I still flock to free food and t-shirts. However, my understanding of and support for the pro-life movement extends far beyond my seventh-grade experience because of the countless encounters with the beauty of all human life.
Because abortion or any other abuse of life is tough to bring up with middle schoolers, the seventh-grade march for life was focused on celebrating all life. This “march” was a grueling mile lap around a park followed by hamburgers, hot dogs, and ultimate frisbee. As far as we were concerned, we were merely celebrating how great it was to be alive! Year after year, I attended these marches with the same friends at my youth group, and each year, I became a little more aware that being pro-life means more than just celebrating how awesome life is.
Both the positive witnesses to human life and the biggest atrocities of it exposed me to the importance of defending life.
In high school, I witnessed the beauty of all life in countless ways. I witnessed the gift of selfless love in my church community. I saw the inherent good of friendship on the golf team. I saw the flourishing of people in community. At the same time however, we learned of countless abuses to human life: the holocaust, genocide, human trafficking, the porn industry, and many more. Both the positive witnesses to human life and the biggest atrocities of it exposed me to the importance of defending life.
Many years after my first local march, I was fortunate enough to help plan the March for Life trip to Washington D.C in 2019. While the March for Life is a political rally primarily focused on ending abortion, the reality is that no matter how hard we worked in organizing this trip or how many people came, we likely would not have a drastic effect on public policy. Therefore, the march team made it our goal not to change public policy, but to change the hearts of those who went on the trip. That is exactly what happened. Students went home more motivated to supporting life at all stages than ever before. Students went in with the narrow focus of stopping abortion but came out with a much more comprehensive view. The true success of the march was the number of hearts that became more committed to a holistic view of the pro-life movement.
Being pro-life is recognizing the value of a human life and pursuing it above all other goods.
So, what does it mean to be pro-life to me? In his book Natural Law and Natural Rights, John Finnis argues that natural law is “a set of basic practical principles which indicate the basic forms of human flourishing as goods to be pursued.” Finnis then lists multiple goods to be pursued: life, practical reflection, knowledge, play, aesthetic experience, friendship, practical reasonableness, and religion. To me, being pro-life means to put life at the forefront of these goods. It means that when the pursuit of these goods conflict, when there is a choice between life and friendship or knowledge or play or any of the other goods, one will choose life. Being pro-life is recognizing the value of a human life and pursuing it above all other goods. I believe the Right to Life club at Notre Dame has captured this sentiment very well. It is an organization committed to protecting life at all stages. It is not just an anti-abortion club. From abortion to end of life care and everywhere in between, Right to Life exists to support a culture that values all life.
The above piece represents the story and views of the author.
Join Notre Dame Right to Life at the 2020 March for Life: “Life Empowers: Pro-Life is Pro-Woman.” Learn more here.
Spencer Bindel is a junior from Dallas, Texas, studying Political Science and Theology. He serves as fall Vice President of Programming for Notre Dame Right to Life. Contact him at email@example.com
How her experience growing up as the eldest of eight gave passion and purpose to one pro-life advocate
I bring up the elephant in the room: "So...what am I supposed to call him?" "We are still unsure, we will talk about it later." Later? Later! Was nine months not enough time? His anonymity does not make him any less precious, but as my dad hands him to me for the first time, it is difficult to address this small nameless child, wrapped up in a blanket like a Chipotle burrito. After the moment of awkwardness passes, I am able to absorb the incredible gift I hold. It is as if nothing else in the whole world matters and the earth turns a little bit more slowly as he begins to curl his soft baby fingers around my pinky. I lower my head to kiss his forehead and get a familiar waft of new baby smell. Then I hold him close to my chest and feel both our hearts beat - his faster than mine. He begins to cry, but beneath the noise I find a great peace.
Remembering the birth of my baby brother Joseph, I see how living in a big family and sharing life with seven brothers and sisters has allowed me to experience the joy and greatness of human life: “Can we make our pizza in the shape of an elf shoe?”, “Let’s play tag! 1, 2, 3...10, 10 and a half, 17..20, ready or not here I come!”, “Can you help me wash my hands? I need help!” My siblings’ total honesty, humble dependence on others, and boundless energy encourages me, as their older sister, to be more honest, humble, and free, and helps me find joy and beauty in my life everyday.
This joy and beauty, seen often most clearly in the lives of children, strikes at the heart of the pro-life movement. I am pro-life because this movement embraces all human life, recognizing the goodness brought into the world by every new human life. The pro-life movement says that every human life is precious and seeks to defend this life in all circumstances. Its vision is a society that values each of its members as irreplaceable, unique, and contributing members of the human family. It clings to and defends this good, in spite of (and especially amidst) threats of utilitarianism, materialism, and individualism. Most specifically, the pro-life movement in America is fixated on one goal: ending abortion.
Abortion is the greatest evil of our times. Speaking at a National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C, 1994, Mother Teresa identified this truth, saying:
“But I feel that the greatest destroyer of peace today is abortion, because it is a war against the child, a direct killing of the innocent child, murder by the mother herself. And if we accept that a mother can kill even her own child, how can we tell other people not to kill one another?”
Mother Teresa points to the fact that if we allow abortion to persist, no other standards of justice in our society can possibly be enforced. Causes for just wage, equal opportunity, and peace amongst nations will never be possible until we can eliminate the injustice that comes from killing the most innocent and dependent human beings among us: the unborn. Since the passing of Roe vs. Wade in 1973, 61 million children have been killed by abortion in the United States. This is over one-third of my generation -- snuffed out, and denied the life I enjoy every day. The elimination of these precious human lives deprives the world of the joy and beauty I have seen manifested in the lives of each of my brothers and sisters, and which I know that every human life brings.
Furthermore, I cannot rest comfortably knowing this good is being deprived and destroyed, and here, again, Mother Teresa gives wise advice:
“How do we persuade a woman not to have an abortion? As always, we must persuade her with love and we remind ourselves that love means to be willing to give until it hurts. Jesus gave even His life to love us. So, the mother who is thinking of abortion, should be helped to love, that is, to give until it hurts her plans, or her free time, to respect the life of her child. The father of that child, whoever he is, must also give until it hurts.”
Hearing these words, I cannot help but ask myself the same question: Am I willing to give until it hurts? Are you? Certainly, this is not an easy standard, and the thought of experiencing pain or suffering for the sake of another can seem at first less than desirable. Yet, without a doubt, the world’s account of Mother Teresa is one -- not of gloom and misery -- but of overwhelming joy and beauty. Here, we see that our charge to protect all human life, and to “love until it hurts” is not simply an obligation, but a path to greater joy and beauty. In living the mission of the pro-life movement -- praying outside of abortion clinics, defending the right to life, and practicing other works of mercy for life -- I have found my own joy and fulfillment, and with it a joyful, loving human community..
I invite you to join this amazing, pro-life community by contributing your time, talents, and treasures to fighting for the goodness of every human life. How can we work to end abortion in our local community and create a world where this evil is unthinkable? As we consider the ways in which we may be being asked to contribute to the pro-life movement and to even “love until it hurts”, let us be encouraged by Jesus’s promise for us, for the unborn, and for all human beings: “The thief comes only to steal, slaughter, and destroy, but I have come that they may have life, and have it more abundantly.” May you know today and always the joy and beauty of life!
The above piece represents the story and views of the writer.
Talia Caridi is the treasurer of Notre Dame Right to Life and a senior studying Biology and Theology from Columbus, Ohio. In the future, she plans to practice medicine as a pro-life OB/GYN.
How a summer with the Sisters of Life taught me what it means to be a part of building a Culture of Life and Love.
When people ask what I’m doing this summer, the quick response is that I’ve been interning with the Respect Life Office for the Archdiocese of New York.
The longer answer would be that I’ve been living, praying, and working with the Sisters of Life that run the Respect Life office, at Sacred Heart Convent. The Convent doubles as a Holy Respite, where expectant and parenting moms live and can grow in their identity as a mother and a woman. The past seven weeks have been stretching – Manhattan is not my home town, to say the least – but they have also been some of the most joyful and soul-filling weeks I never knew to ask for.
The Sisters of Life, founded in 1991 by John Joseph Cardinal O’Connor in the Archdiocese of New York, are a contemplative-active order that take the traditional vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. They also take a fourth vow, to protect and enhance the sacredness of every human life. This fourth vow means that everything they do, prayer, evangelization, mission, finds its heart in building a culture of life. They serve women in crisis pregnancies at Visitation Missions, helping them find prenatal care, parenting support, or abortion alternatives, make adoption plans, or come to grips with difficult diagnoses. They live with pregnant and parenting women, loving them as daughters and loving their children as their own. They advocate for policy and cultural change that recognizes and upholds the dignity of human life. They do so much more. And this summer, they have shown me what it is to be pro-life.
"Everything they do...finds its heart in building a culture of life"
It has been all gift, and entirely grace, to spend this summer learning what it means to live love so radically, and to truly lift up, celebrate, and support mothers, their children, and ALL human life, from conception until natural death. I’ve seen what it means to build a culture of life and a civilization of love, not just in our little office on W 51st St, editing our website or writing our lesson plans for grade school curriculum (as important as that work is), but in welcoming a mom and her newborn home to Holy Respite, in filling out housing applications to help a family move, or in lifting our voices in prayer as three Sisters lay prostrate and made their profession of perpetual vows, including that fourth vow, “to protect and enhance the sacredness of every human life.”
At our Mass before the March for Life this past January, Fr. Jenkins preached: “The heart of the pro-life movement is love,” he said, “for the unborn, for their mothers, and even for those who oppose us.” I loved those words then, and I’ve carried them with me this summer, as I’ve seen that the heart of all the Sisters do is love. It is love for the unborn, for their mothers, for those who oppose us, and it is love for Love Himself. They lay down their lives constantly in self-sacrificial love, and they do that because they know Who first did that for them. They live love so radically, because they are in love with the Love Who invites us to give over our entire selves. John Cardinal O’Connor Spoke of the Sister’s Charism, their gift, in this way:
“We have the Sisters of Life dominantly to love. They will engage in
many apostolic activities, but primarily, they will love, they will love,
they will love. They will love with their own lives, with their own hearts,
with their own prayers, with their own thoughts. They will never look at
anyone except through the eyes of love.”
"They will love, they will love, they will love."
The heart of the pro-life movement is love. And when we know Love, we can better live out joyful sacrifice for the mothers, fathers, children, and people who need us most. When we know Love, the work we do in evangelization, prayer, service, advocacy, and education all helps other people to come to know Him too – all becomes done out of, for, and with love.
To the women, my Sisters in Christ, who have helped me to see and to come to know Love more and more this summer: words can never express my gratitude. Thank you for the witness of your love, joy, and life in service of this movement and the Lord. Thank you for welcoming me into your home for meals, adventures, work, and prayer. And thank you for sending me back refilled, renewed, and recommitted to bringing Love into my own heart, life, and work.
I have been challenged this summer, more than I could have ever planned for. I’ve been overwhelmed, I’ve felt out of place, and I’ve struggled to find hope when it seems like all of New York, and all of our world, is fostering a culture of death, rather than one of life. But day after day a bell rings in the late afternoon, and I find myself in a familiar pew in a (mercifully) chilly chapel, sitting with the Eucharistic Christ who is Love. There He has, ever so quietly and always so gently, invited me into his Sacred Heart who is Love Himself. It is there that I have been filled, and it is from there that He sends us forth.
The heart of the pro-life movement is Love.
The above piece represents the story and views of the writer.
Maggie Garnett is the Vice President of Communications for Notre Dame Right to Life, and a sophomore in Walsh Hall. She is studying Theology and Constitutional Studies. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Write to Life is the official blog of Notre Dame Right to Life, a platform where, each week, we will be sharing the thoughts and stories of our club members. We hope for this blog to be a written witness to the ways we live out our club’s mission and the reasoning behind it!
Notre Dame Right to Life seeks to promote and uphold the sanctity of all human life from conception until natural death through prayer, service, and education, and to help women in crisis pregnancies find alternatives to abortion through service and support, in the spirit of the Catholic Church.
St. Paul writes in his Letter to the Ephesians that “speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” (Ephesians 4:15). Both truth and love are essential components in building a culture of life! As Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has stated, “love without truth would be blind; truth without love would be like ‘a clanging cymbal’ (I Corinthians 13:1)” (Homily, 18 April 2005).
Our club is guided by this combination of truth and love.
We recognize the right to life as a fundamental truth of human existence which can be known by all people on the basis of reason. Science clearly demonstrates that a human organism with totally unique DNA exists from the moment of conception, and modern ultrasound technology has made it difficult to ignore the humanity of the fetus.
"Truth without love would be like ‘a clanging cymbal'"
As a unique human life, the child in the womb is entitled to the same rights and protections accorded to all persons. A society which claims to support equal rights and at the same time perpetuates offenses against life, through both its laws and its practices, stands on contradiction and confusion. Such a society also fails to uphold the dignity of women, who are especially affected by the authorization and practice of abortion.
Additionally, in light of our mission in the spirit of the Catholic Church, we believe that our faith confirms and illumines this truth which we know by reason.
In reference to the Incarnation, Pope St. John Paul II writes in his encyclical Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life) that “this saving event reveals to humanity not only the boundless love of God who ‘so loved the world that he gave his only Son’ (John 3:16), but also the incomparable value of every human person” (Evangelium Vitae 5). Because of this, “rejection of human life, in whatever form that rejection takes, is really a rejection of Christ” (Evangelium Vitae 104).
The coming of Jesus Christ, and his sacrifice on the cross, also reveal to us that “life finds its center, its meaning and its fulfillment when it is given up” (Evangelium Vitae 51).
It is in this gift of self, which constitutes authentic love, that we realize most fully who we are called to be! It is only in following the example of Jesus Christ and his unceasing love for each person that we can truly foster a culture of life and support the truth of the sanctity of human life.
“Life finds its center, its meaning and its fulfillment when it is given up”
Our club is grounded in the reality that each and every human life is valuable precisely because it is human life, and not because of our abilities, characteristics, health, status, or any other category which is often used to define human value. The greatest good in life is not the pursuit of our own convenience or the fulfillment of our individual desires at the expense of others. Rather, true freedom is found in the willingness to protect, defend, and welcome human life even when it is difficult.
This won’t look the same for everyone, and we each have our own unique gifts, talents, and calls that can be put to the service of life. This is why we were inspired to start this blog! Our diverse stories testify to the beauty of a life found in service to others, and the joy that comes from a defense of life at every stage.
Our posts will strive to illumine the ways in which honoring the truth of the sanctity of life is freeing and fulfilling, rather than stifling and empty. The blog will also be an opportunity for a conversation on the reasons for our pro-life beliefs and on current topics facing the pro-life movement. We invite you to join us as we celebrate truth and love as the foundations of a culture of life.
We also hope that this blog will be a reminder of who we are and who we are made for. As St. Augustine writes in his Confessions, “You have made us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You.” Our final goal is to rest in Christ alone, who came to bring us life to the full (John 10:10). With St. John Paul II, we affirm that “to proclaim Jesus is itself to proclaim life” (Evangelium Vitae 80)!
"To proclaim Jesus is itself to proclaim life!"
Noelle Johnson is a senior and President of Notre Dame Right to Life. Originally from Los Angeles, she studies theology and physics and is a member of the club figure skating team.
What does it mean to be pro-life?
We all reach our convictions and beliefs in unique and beautiful ways. Hear some of the ways our commissioners, executive board, and club members came to fight for life!
How do we witness to life and love in our communities?
Our club is full of educators, culture builders, and servant leaders. Follow along to see some of the ways they encounter and engage a Culture of Life.
Everyone has a story.
If you're a member of the Notre Dame community with a pro-life story to tell, we'd love to hear from you.