Creative expressions of the culture of life are a pivotal part of the new evangelization. Today, Rozann Carter explores three of these practical manifestations, reflecting upon the necessary shift in vulnerability that characterizes each, which is the true display of charity.
In a society of insurance plans, 401k’s, houses-to-grow-into, pre-nuptial agreements, and preventative plastic surgery, there is hardly anything that is more of a cultural conundrum than radical, voluntary vulnerability. It is suffering with a certain extremism, the free will submission to unforeseeable distress for an unknown greater good. Human nature seeks stability and security, constructing and arranging layers upon layers of fortification to keep away discomfort and head off any possible anguish or pain. However, it strikes me that there is a fine line, but a tremendous disconnect, between seeking this stability for oneself and pursuing it for the sake of another.
True charity walks this line. It is a willful exchange of vulnerability through relationship. “You take my security, I’ll assume your suffering.”
From its human pitfalls to its noblest, saintly expressions, I love the passion behind the pro-life movement—safeguarding human dignity in its most fundamental form, the simple but foundational right to life. Protective legislation is key, well-formed philosophy is essential, appropriate medical findings must be presented, prayers must be offered, intercession must be sought, and financial aid must be considered.
However, there is something about the practical expression of the pro-life movement that often tip-toes around that next step—vulnerability. We see its latent possibility in others, we encourage them to accept it, and we shuffle around to find a place in the movement that keeps us from being too vulnerable while still sporting the bumper sticker. (I am working on removing the plank in my own eye, here, so it is a bit difficult to type.)
But, to transform the pro-life movement into a culture of life, as Father Steve described in his post, the heroic point of departure is the voluntary acceptance of someone else’s vulnerability, even when they don’t “deserve” it. And, to effect an entire culture, this heroism must lose that very qualification—it must become commonplace.
What do we need to make that transformation from the heroic to the commonplace? Open hearts, solid convictions, and imitable examples.
Continuing our series about building a culture of life through creative approaches and endeavors, I offer you three examples from Chicago: the Women’s Center, Maryville Crisis Nursery, and the witness of Lynn and Mike Benz.
The Women’s Center is the full-circle answer to the shortcomings of Planned Parenthood. The alternative to abortion that the Women’s Center offers women is not simply “keep your baby”; it is medical care, financial support, an adoration chapel with continuous prayer in front of the Blessed Sacrament, and counseling—the loving hands of vulnerable servants willing to change the course of their stable lives to help others avoid the indescribable suffering of abortion and post-abortion.
Inside the cubby-holes of the kneelers of St. Jude’s adoration chapel on the grounds of the Women’s Center are stacks and stacks of ultrasound pictures of children facing abortion as well as those who have been spared and carried to term. As volunteers kneel in that chapel all hours of the night and throughout the day, they see this vulnerability made personal, they visualize the new lives for whom they pray as they serve their mothers, fathers, and families in a holistic way, well beyond pregnancy and childbirth. The culture of life is given a face, an ultrasound photo, a name ... and an army of prayer warriors.
Our pro-life posters, the positive kind, are often branded with the image of a sweet, cooing baby with a bubbly grin and hair combed up like Alfalfa—but the picture of a screaming baby, its little tongue shaking, face red, furrowed eyebrows with a laundry list of insatiable needs is often what is playing out in the mind of the petrified mother facing seemingly insurmountable helplessness. Maryville Crisis Nursery exists for those times, and all of the challenges that follow. The express angelic purpose of this ministry is to provide a no-questions-asked safe haven— for an hour, an evening, or up to 72 hours— when the going gets tough. The choice for life means embracing the exhaustion with the wonder, and the Maryville Crisis Nursery makes it possible for young families to regain their sanity and perspective by absorbing that exhaustion. Sister Catherine Ryan has built a ministry that offers stability, rearranges vulnerability, and positively saves families.
Mike and Lynn Benz were sidewalk counselors at an abortion clinic in Chicago, part of a non-violent advocacy group committed to praying and offering ad-hoc assistance to families in dire need. “You just show up, and God does the work,” Lynn explained. When a young woman made her way into the clinic one afternoon and was met by Lynn’s open-ended offer of help, God definitely did his work. “I couldn’t do anything else. I couldn’t say no. There was nothing else I could do but bring her home with me. Something could have gone wrong, but that is where faith came in.”
Lynn and Mike opened their home to a vulnerable 15-year-old girl with a baby on the way, letting her take up residence with the Benz family as she sorted out the next steps in her rapidly changing life. They boldly sacrificed their comfortable routine, familiar dynamic, and security to see their offer through. “Was it easy?” Lynn explains, “No. It was stressful and worrisome at times. Of course we had to make accommodations. But whatever you give, you get back 100 times. She has been such a gift to our family.”
The young woman is now finishing up her college education, has two beautiful children, spends holidays with the Benz family, and will be a bridesmaid at the wedding of Mike and Lynn’s daughter this December.
“My friends always tell me, ‘I couldn’t do what you do.’ I tell them, ‘I can’t do it either!’ You just show up, and God handles the rest. You put yourself in a position to serve him, to ask the question, and he provides the answer, he offers the strength.”
The culture of life encompasses more than the movement to secure rights for the unborn, no doubt. But what these three examples have demonstrated is that, in any manifestation, the culture of life is created, formed and nourished with a bold, yet very simple ‘yes’ to vulnerability. That ‘yes’ is not someone else’s, someone more equipped to take on extra tasks, or with a greater abundance to provide for others’ needs. It is yours and mine, and vulnerability calls for a less rigorous discretion in offering that ‘yes’, both to God and to our neighbor.
Rozann Carter is the Creative Director at Word on Fire Catholic Ministries.