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Witnesses to life in Ordinary Times

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The March is an annual opportunity to recommit to respecting the dignity of each human being, made in the likeness of God, and created with an irreplaceable part in the human family that no other will ever fill.

Every January, I join others of all faiths and no faith at the National March for Life. Since 1974, the March gathers a throng, mourning in hope, to bear witness to the value of human life from its earliest stage.

Described as "the largest annual human rights demonstration in the world," the crowd at the March proclaims the truth that the right to life is the foundation of all other human rights. As is true of the foundations to all things worth building, if the foundation is weak, all things built on it will be shaky indeed.

The March is an annual opportunity to recommit to respecting the dignity of each human being, made in the likeness of God, and created with an irreplaceable part in the human family that no other will ever fill. I am grateful to all who bear witness to this truth on the cold streets of our nation's capital.

When the March is over, and its participants return to their homes, I am also grateful for the many ways in which they and countless others witness to the sacredness of life in the everyday march through ordinary times. So . . .

Thank you to the elderly couple with full hearts and an overflowing basement bursting with the cribs, strollers, clothes, diapers, formula and toys they collect for expectant mothers in need. They know what may seem small never is.

Thank you to the man who sits in a quiet bar while his friend confides that his wife is pregnant with their fifth child and he just lost his job. Hearing this despair and knowing the desperate thoughts that fill the fearful father's mind, this loyal friend pledges his support. He means it. This friendship can save a life -- or two.

Thank you to the high school teacher with the picture-perfect family life who consoles a student facing an unexpected pregnancy and fearing her bright future is lost. After the standard words of encouragement fail, this teacher takes a deep breath and confides in her student what she has always kept private: "I was once there, too."

Thank you to the woman who carries her child for months, knowing she will place her greatest treasure into the heart and home of another family. She also knows this great act of love will exhaust her body and may break her heart in ways few will understand.

Thank you to the parents with full hearts and empty arms who adopt children and raise them with a love that, in turn, inspires others to see the beautiful gift of adoption and continue this circle of sacred love.

Thank you to friends who console a mother who miscarries her child. They understand this grief is deep and raw because a life has ended. So, they do not blithely say "it's better this way" or "you'll have another" because they know far more than a dream or a hope died within.

Thank you to those who speak kindly and with respect for women who give birth to and raise children in less than perfect circumstances. Others will overhear them -- and remember their words more than anyone will ever know.

Thank you to all who dedicate their lives to caring for and advocating for those who live with disabilities. In you, families facing an unexpected pre-natal diagnosis might see a glimpse of a promising future for their child. They may desperately need your witness to resist the pressures they so often face as they wait to welcome their child.

Thank you to the parents of boys who teach their sons to respect the dignity of women, the sacredness of sex, and the obligation to support the children they father in every way they can.

Thank you to those same parents who care for the mother of their son's children -- regardless of whether she is a beloved daughter-in-law whose pregnancy answers years of family prayer or a frightened teenage girlfriend whose name they do not even know.

Thank you to the religious sisters who, in so many ways, live the radical hospitality that welcomes women in need and their children by offering the love and material support that our busy world pays lip service to say but too often neglects to do.

Thank you to the priests who hear the pain-filled confessions of those who carry heavy burdens and lifetimes of regrets. Through the ministry of the Church, they grant the pardon and peace that frees so many who are so broken to become some of the best protectors of life I have ever met.

Thank you to the friends of a frightened young woman, abandoned by her boyfriend, who accompany her home when she fears telling her family she is pregnant.

Thank you to the friends of an overwhelmed father-to-be when they have the courage to tell him that fathers support both their children and the women carrying those children -- and then help him to do this. Extra thanks if those friends also have the courage to tell him that, popular opinion notwithstanding, saying "I will support you in whatever you decide" is not support at all.

Thank you to the friendly Mass-goer who gives a wink and a smile to a crying infant rather than a cold stare and judgmental glare. The harried parents trying to keep their children corralled in their pew will appreciate this and be grateful that those who celebrate the sanctity of life are not curmudgeons when they see the beauty of that life in the house of God.

Thank you to the knitters and quilters in retirement homes who make baby blankets to donate to pregnancy centers. They have a loving hope that an exhausted mother they will never know may derive the strength to carry on knowing a handmade gift was made just for her unborn child.

Thank you, most of all, to parents who welcome children into the world in so many situations that are unexpected, unsupported, and unappreciated. What you do is sacred -- not only on day one, but each and every day.

To all of you, and so many others, my "thank you" seems small. May God bless you for all the ways you witness to life in your own marches through ordinary times.



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