Last week was full of ugly news about unborn babies being treated like so much meat to be priced and sold. Pro-life Americans rightly reacted with outrage--and, encouragingly enough, so did many people who usually think of themselves as “pro-choice,” but who were aghast at the kind of choice that could lead to a discussion, over salad and wine, of the best ways to kill a late-term baby so as not to damage her valuable organs.
But I’ve been following a different story these past few days: a quiet little story of pro-life courage, a story of a mom facing a potentially deadly delivery and a child with many health challenges to come, a story of faith, and of hope, and of love.
Those of you who read Rod Dreher’s blog have read this story. It is the story of his Orthodox parish priest, and the priest’s wife, and their three young children, and this fourth new little one who was just born a month early, minus an eye and with other issues, but plus a family and a community of love. She has a mother who was willing to lay down her life for her (as so many mothers quietly choose to do in similar circumstances); she has a father and siblings who have loved her dearly from the minute they knew about her--long before they knew that her arrival would be so difficult and scary. And they didn’t stop loving her when they did learn these things. Abortion was never even up for debate. Little Irene would be welcomed and loved no matter the cost, and she has been welcomed and loved, even by total strangers who may never get to meet her in person.
(Perhaps you would like to be one of them; the need is still great, and will continue to be so for the foreseeable future.)
Our world is full of people who equate love with romance, and not only with Romance as a sort of grand and noble idea, but with mere romantic feelings. It doesn’t readily comprehend the kind of love that calmly contemplates the possibility of death when a child is coming into the world--the death of the child, the death of her mother, the death, perhaps, of them both. It cannot understand that the price of real love is always sacrifice, and that even when the physical death of the body is not required, the death of the Self is the daily coin which the Lover offers to the Beloved. Few mothers, praise God, will ever have to die for their children, but they must all do what is sometimes harder: they must live for them, and not just for them but with them, and not just with them but with that kind of watchful, loving, sacrificial presence which sets aside (gladly one day, grumpily the next--mothers are still human, after all) her own desires, her own wished-for actions, her own work or pleasures, for as long as this season of the child’s life lasts, for as long as she has children who still need this willing and active love from her.
But if this wife and mother is blessed to have as her husband and father a man who truly understands the sacrificial nature of real love, he will be beside her in this great work: he will daily lay down his own life for his wife and their children, as she lays hers down for him and for them--and instead of a battle of the sexes there is the competition of the beloved ones, as each tries to out-do the others in acts of sweet and holy service. It is sweet, because it is freely and willingly chosen; it is holy, because it imitates the generous love of the Father for all of His children here on earth.
When a family has this love at its very core of being, when it flourishes between a husband and his wife, and then flows from them to their children, that family has the kind of strength that can weather the worst storms that life breaks over them. The prospect of a greater and graver sacrifice than what they have so far faced together may not be a happy one, but it is not one that the family whose love models that of Christ for His Church will run from. Trusting in the infinite goodness, mercy, and wisdom of God, they bow their heads in fervent prayer, and lift them again to take whatever cup He gives them.
And that is the kind of love that truly wins.
The world doesn’t believe in that kind of love. The world believes in a kind of love that is, at its heart, too selfish for sacrifices. The world believes in a kind of love that doesn’t endure, a kind of love that leads a mother to reject her unborn child (and to strangers calmly discussing the sale of the child’s body). The world believes in the lust of Herod for Salome, but cynically dismisses the idea that married love can ever really be faithful, or permanent, or exclusive. The world teaches children to find their parents stupid and dull, and it teaches parents to see in their children objects who can please or disappoint based on the worldly successes they achieve, or fail to achieve. The world sees a single ray of sunlight illuminating the Cross with the suffering Christ upon it, and finds nothing but shadows: “And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not.” (John 1:5)
In a small town in Louisiana, a tiny baby and her family are radiant in that Light; a sign of hope, and a reminder of the goodness of God, who will not, in His victorious Love, let the darkness overcome us.