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March for life: a fragile journey

Faithpoint | Thursday, January 29, 2009

Jesus said to his disciples, “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like? It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest seed you plant in the ground. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds of the air can perch in its shade.”

When I think about my own life, and the greatest signs of God’s love in my life, I realize that none of them just descended on me, dropping forcefully out of the sky and into my lap. Rather, they almost all started out as small, precious, even fragile signs. I think of my 2nd grade teacher, Sr. Thomas Edward – she was a mustard seed herself at 4-foot-8. But she also prepared us for 1st Communion with the most extraordinary lessons and powerful personal witness. A love for the Eucharist is a very fragile thing, and she planted it within us 25 years ago.

My vocation to be a Catholic school teacher, to be a priest – did not drop upon me out of the sky. It was much more tenuous, and up-for-grabs. It took a friend, who knew I was lurching about trying to find my way after college, telling me that I should apply for a teacher opening at my old high school. It took my girlfriend, sitting next to me at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Manhattan before we went to see Cats (yes, I admit it – but I didn’t like it), telling me she thought I’d give a great homily (talk about a date-stopper). It took a lot of nights of holding on to what seemed to be a whisper of a calling, until the voice within grew stronger and stronger.

Even our Church itself began as a small town in Capernaum, gathered at the door to hear a former neighbor suddenly, surprisingly, preaching a new message. And after his life was over, he left his new Church in the hands of a handful of uneducated workers living in the middle of a desert.

The things that have come to represent the most certain presence of God in my life have almost without exception begun as very small, fragile, precious things.

We see this powerfully in the mystery of the Incarnation. The greatest sign of the presence of God in the world – God’s own Son – came as a little baby, his life hanging by a thread, born in a manger, willed to life by the courage of Mary and Joseph. But it all hung by a thread – and God did not choose to seek a more secure way of sending him to us.

Perhaps, in all this, is one way to understand the Church’s stance on the Right to Life: as a deep realization of how precious and delicate are the greatest signs of God’s Presence in the world. They all seem to hang by a thread. Like the mustard seed, they’re extremely vulnerable – but if they are cultivated, they become our surest signs of the presence of God.

At its best, the object of the Church’s stance on life is not to claim moral superiority, but to bring about a conversion of the heart in our culture so that all may see the preciousness of life and come to cherish especially those who are most vulnerable. This includes the vulnerability of young women in crisis pregnancies, who don’t have the support they need to raise a child. It includes the poor and the homeless, who, because it seems they can’t contribute to society, are always at the risk of being ignored by society. It includes the elderly, who can be judged as “Their best days are behind them. Why should we waste time and resources on them?”

All of these groups are mustard seeds – small, vulnerable, even fragile. Yet, if we give ourselves to them, and nourish the gift of life that has been given to them, they can grow into very powerful signs of the presence of God in our world. For it is often by the most fragile and vulnerable ways that God speaks the most important messages to us.

This week’s column is written by Fr. Lou DelFra, CSC, Director of Campus Ministry Bible Studies and ACE Chaplain. He can be reached at delfra.2@nd.edu.

The views expressed in this Faithpoint are those of the author and not

necessarily those of The Observer.