“Please don’t kill the child. I want the child. Please give me the child. I am willing to accept any child who would be aborted and to give that child to a married couple who will love the child and be loved by the child.”
These moving words from Mother Teresa’s speech at the National Prayer Breakfast in 1997, a few months before her death, epitomized the deeply personal empathy the world came to admire her for during her lifetime. As we prepare to celebrate her canonization however, it is almost impossible to ignore the contrast between her message of love and life and a political culture that asks Americans to revel in abortion.
“I wanted a family but it was the wrong time,” said Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America as she joyfully spoke to the Democratic National convention floor before a national audience in July. Rather than pleas for consideration and mercy, we are now subject to mainstream politics that asks women to “shout” their abortions as a normal and even positive action.
It has been said that the Holy Spirit raises up certain public saints, with a particular gift for a specific moment in history. Against the backdrop of having lost 57 million Americans to abortion since it was legalized in the United States, living in a culture where HBO runs a series aimed at normalizing abortion, and facing a presidential candidate who once said abortion should be safe, legal and rare now advocating abortion on demand at any time in pregnancy paid for by taxpayer dollars, our “shout your abortion” world needs the antidote of Mother Teresa’s gift of love and human dignity more than ever.
Blessed Teresa of Calcutta understood the inherent dignity of the human person in a profound way. She saw Christ in every person she encountered — from the president of the United States to the addicted, sick, elderly person dying in one of the shelters she founded. She had the habit of pausing whenever she greeted anyone because she was greeting Christ in the person first. Her heart ached for the poor. She sought to satiate what she believed was God’s thirst by loving the poor. Interestingly this saint wasn’t known for being “nice” — certainly not politically correct — but rather for being radically faithful to God and her call to love the poorest of the poor, even when that meant conflict and challenge. She did not mince words and was single-focused in her mission.
I am blessed to have had the opportunity to travel to India and volunteer in Calcutta, working with the poorest of the poor. Having met Mother Teresa once, I can assure you that “loving the poor” as she taught is not glamorous or easy. It means washing the wounds of someone who has sores on their skin that smell. It means hand-feeding a man dying of AIDS who hasn’t felt human touch or been washed for many months. It means caring for babies who were born of mothers addicted to drugs.
The life’s work of Mother Teresa and its universal recognition across the globe allowed her a unique platform to speak about the truth she had learned and lived in love for human life. To the chagrin of the politically correct audience before her when she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979, Mother Teresa she spoke about abortion as the most serious level of poverty that a culture could encounter: “And I feel one thing I want to share with you all, the greatest destroyer of peace today is the cry of the innocent unborn child. For if a mother can murder her own child in her womb, what is left for you and for me to kill each other? To me the nations who have legalized abortion, they are the poorest nations. They are afraid of the little one, they are afraid of the unborn child, and the child must die because they don’t want to feed one more child, to educate one more child, the child must die.”
When Mother Teresa spoke at the National Prayer Breakfast in 1997, Hillary Clinton was present in her role as first lady. Not mincing words, Mother Teresa spoke passionately about the dignity of the unborn, saying, “By abortion, the mother does not learn to love, but kills even her own child to solve her problems.” Not in the least bit intimidated and perhaps sensing that Mrs. Clinton would continue to be a cultural influencer, Mother Teresa used the occasion to speak one on one with the first lady about why she was wrong on abortion. Unfortunately, as is obvious in her stance today, Mrs. Clinton refused to receive the truth in love.
Perhaps more than ever before, our culture needs what Mother Teresa’s life taught us: love and respect. On Sept. 4, Blessed Teresa of Calcutta will be officially declared a saint in the Catholic Church. A few months later the United States will elect a new president. So many of us long for a better environment, culture of life, a culture of love — but are confused about how to bring that about amid such a confusing and difficult political and cultural season. We can begin by taking our cue from this remarkably brave and loving woman, Mother Teresa of Calcutta and her profound understanding and radical living out of the truth about the inherent dignity of the human person.
• Jeanne Mancini of the March for Life Education Defense Fund.