The USCCB designates each October as Respect Life Month: “a time to focus on God’s precious gift of human life and our responsibility to care for, protect, and defend the lives of our brothers and sisters.” The duty to bear Christian witness to the dignity of every human life extends, of course, throughout the year. The annual March for Life in DC and similar marches in other cities highlight the efforts of advocates for the unborn, but being pro-life includes many activities that receive less fanfare but that are no less important. By appreciating the inherent dignity and worth of each life as created by God, we recognize the sanctity of creation and our need to defend it.
The existence of an abortion clinic near my home exemplifies disregard for the dignity of human life, as well as the reality that many clients feel as if there is no better option for themselves or the nascent life inside the womb. To attempt to provide clients with an alternative to abortion and offer support, a number of advocates on the sidewalk offer counseling while others protest the clinic’s operation, pray for the souls affected, and pray in reparation for the sins committed there. Drivers and pedestrians passing by often passionately criticize our presence; many others choose ignorance or don’t want to become involved in such a contentious issue. It’s not a comfortable situation to be in, but we know we have a chance to intervene on behalf of the unborn and the parent(s) who don’t know where else to turn for assistance. Our position is not one of judgment but of love; we cannot turn a blind eye to this silent suffering.
Being a father, I vividly recall the excitement and joy of seeing my child develop in the womb of my spouse and then be delivered into this world as an infant. These life events made my pro-life convictions more tangible for me. Even under less-than-ideal circumstances of conception, the personhood of the unborn is not diminished and therefore merits protection. Fatherhood continues to teach me about myself and my role leading a family towards holiness. I have learned I must recognize the graces God bestows on us to build our domestic church and be witnesses to the sanctity of life: the person, the family, and our Faith.
I am encouraged by the many who engage with the culture and lawmakers to challenge preconceptions or misconceptions about the value of human life. The immigrant, refugee, criminal, and marginalized are endowed with the same worth as each of us! Threats to the sanctity of life endure in our society and also include sterilizations, physician-assisted suicides, human trafficking, mistreatment and neglect of seniors and the disabled, and other forms of abuse. While others may ignore these sad realities, the pro-life movement knows we have our work cut out for us. In every way in which we engage, educate, and work to convert hearts and minds to be more aware of the value of the life which we have been gifted, we must always act with love, compassion, and hope for the protection and celebration of all forms of human life, from conception through natural death. Life is precious, life is sacred, and life is worth protecting. If we do not take a stand to defend the most vulnerable, who will?
As a child, I was perplexed by the three in one nature of the Trinity. It was a mystery that was hard to fathom, but so much about my day to day Catholic faith was steeped in the Trinity that I simply believed and accepted it without question. Everything, from grace before meals, the beginning and ending of our prayers and devotions, the opening of the liturgy of the Mass, and the reception of the sacraments of Eucharist and Reconciliation, began “In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” In my mind as a child, I considered the Trinity the divine family who created and loved me unconditionally. I felt a strong sense of security under the umbrella of the love and protection of the Almighty, the Savior, and the Helper – as I learned to refer to them.
Now in adulthood, I have a deeper perspective on the Holy Trinity – my ‘divine family’ –as being the basis for Christian living. I have been fortunate to grow up in a loving family with a father who lived his life reflecting the divine love of the Holy Trinity. Being nurtured in a very tangible way through the example of my dad’s faith helped me understand and appreciate the gift of family. As a young teen, I remember my father’s admonition from Exodus: “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land your God is giving you.” It wasn’t a suggestion; it was a command that came with a promise. My dad had a quiet countenance, but when he spoke, I listened! He appealed to my sense of what was right and encouraged me to be good. Just as God the Father instructed His people and led them on the right path, even amidst great suffering, my dad led our family with a confidence that being good and doing what is right would bring us to eternity with our divine family.
Throughout several millennia, God has watched over His creation with providential love. Through the ministry, death, and Resurrection of Jesus, He has shown us mercy very personally. The indwelling of the Holy Spirit in each of us guides us on the daily path of truth. What is so magnificent is how God ordered the human family to live out His wise and benevolent plan. In the Holy Trinity we are given the totality of all we need to live a holy Christian life. I join St. Paul in praying:
“This then is what I pray, kneeling before the Father, from whom every fatherhood in heaven or on earth, takes its name. In the abundance of his glory may he, through his Spirit, enable you to grow firm in power with regard to your inner self so that Christ may live in your hearts through faith, and then, planted in love, with all God’s holy people you will have the strength to grasp the breadth and the length, the height and the depth, so that knowing the love of Christ, which is beyond knowledge, you may be filled with the utter fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:14-19)
In Familiaris Consortio, John Paul II shares how earthly fathers “reveal and relive on earth the very Fatherhood of God.” Through my dad’s prayerful and faithful commitment to his role as husband and father, he led us to walk with God. His daily choices to pray and seek wisdom, to act charitably, and to put the welfare of my mom and his kids foremost taught me what the love of the Trinity looks like. By embracing his vocation as protector, provider, and teacher, my father made God’s love manifest in our domestic family. The older I get, the more I treasure this rich heritage I’ve been nourished in!
Pope Saint John Paul II also wrote that
“a man is called upon to ensure the harmonious and united development of all the members of the family… by exercising generous responsibility for the life conceived under the heart of the mother, by a more solicitous commitment to education, by work which is never a cause of division in the family but promotes its unity and stability, and by means of the witness he gives of an adult Christian life which effectively introduces the children into the living experience of Christ and the church.”
This type of earthly fatherhood is the embodiment of the divine being of God the Father in the most Holy Trinity.
As the national day to celebrate fathers follows shortly after the Solemnity of the Holy Trinity, it seems fitting to reflect with gratitude on the gift of our divine Father and our human fathers—as well as the rich heritage we may possess through them. My dad lived a full ninety-four years and made it his mission to evangelize us to his last breath. He never ceased to serve his children and was a witness to the importance of a personal relationship with the Trinity. He shared with us his prayers to his ‘daddy’ in heaven and to his favorite saints. He encouraged his grandchildren and great grandchildren to talk to God throughout the day and beg Him for help. He exhibited an abiding hope in gaining something good from every experience, good or terrible. His favorite expression to everyone he encountered was “everything is beautiful!” His peaceful, positive countenance is what everyone remembers of him. This countenance comes from his life lived closely under the protection of God our Father, his devotion to the Sacred heart of Jesus, and his willing surrender to the wisdom of the Holy Spirit. My earthly father was a gift who made the love of God real for me; I will be forever grateful.
Susan A. Fowler was born and raised in Maryland and has been a lifelong Catholic actively involved in parish ministries for over 43 years. She has been married for 40 years, raised 6 children with her husband, and currently resides in Georgia.
My wife and I welcomed our first daughter into the world on February 24th, and we brought her home a few days later on Ash Wednesday. As is the typical newborn parent experience, we’ve endured frustrating, sleepless nights and reveled in joy-filled, playful mornings. Because of stay-at-home, work-from-home orders in Texas, my parental leave has been longer than I anticipated, but I believe this is a blessing. Each moment I’ve had with my daughter has been precious, and as I sit on this (squeaky!) rocking chair holding her in my arms, balancing my laptop on my knee, the recent advice of expert parents runs through my mind and evokes in my heart a fresh understanding of God’s divine fatherhood and my pursuit of sainthood.
In the weeks leading up to our daughter’s birth, one mother of 6 said something to me to the effect of: “The nights are long and the days are short, but the years are the fastest of all.” In these first few weeks of parenthood, I’ve found that my wife is more easily roused during the night. When it’s my turn (opportunity, really) to get up mid-REM cycle, the nights really do feel long. Honestly, they drag. But it’s struck me more than once that getting up in the middle of the night is a very practical way that I can pursue holiness in my vocation. To sacrifice sleep to offer comfort to my child and rest for my wife is not in the same league as answering a burning question for the Summa or calling out a witty line while being burned at the stake, but it is a constant formation in the virtues of humility and charity. I’m led to consider St. Therese’s “little way,” which makes more and more sense each day. Those long nights always do turn into days and, I’m sure, the years will speed by soon.
Many people, including our pediatrician, have said, “Always hold your baby in the first few weeks, even when she’s sleeping. You’re not spoiling her, and you won’t get to do that forever.” As a general rule, I’ve always believed babies are cute and, therefore, worthy of spoiling. But no one warned me that when it comes to one’s own child, evolutionary biology and divine motivation combine to make one certain that one’s own baby is the most perfect, most adorable being on all the earth and, therefore, is automatically deserving of every good thing. When I’m holding my daughter in my arms, and I gaze upon her (perfect) little face with its self-inflicted scratches and baby acne, I’m blown away at how much love I have for her. Then, I’m briefly terrified at the thought that something bad could happen to her.
And isn’t that how it is for our relationship with God our Father? He gazes upon us, loving us with all our imperfections, slightly terrified and sorrowful at the thought that sin and death and temporal pursuits could lead us to ruin. As I adjust this baby in my arms right now, I’m wondering whether God pulls us closer to His bosom in those moments of near separation, gazing upon us all the while, reminding us how beloved we are with, as Nouwen says in Life of the Beloved, “all the tenderness and force that love can hold.”
There are many more pieces of advice that have yielded great spiritual reflections for me these last few weeks. Now, I know that I’m not offering any groundbreaking reflections, but maybe the point of this post is not to offer a new thought, but instead to acknowledge that God has spoken these familiar realities of His love and affection for me in a deeper way through the experience of my vocation. I’m encouraged to remind you in these times of distress: God is a loving Father whose sacrificial love turns against all else, even His own justice (Deus Caritas Est, 10) to gaze upon you with all the force that love can hold. Perhaps this is a notion all mothers and fathers before me—spiritual, adoptive, and biological—have come to understand already, but it’s consoling to know that in a time of uncertainty, God still speaks to and affirms His people through personal encounters. Even through a sleeping baby and a squeaky rocking chair.
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Thomas Carani works at a parish in Austin, Texas. He received his B.A. in Theology and Religious Studies from The Catholic University of America. Thomas is also a graduate of the Echo Graduate Service Program at the University of Notre Dame, where he received his Master’s in Theology.