Wednesday, 11 April 2012

A pro-life read

Worth a read
A friend recently lent me The Appalling Strangeness of the Mercy of God to read.  It's the story of Ruth Pakaluk, of interest to me because she was both a convert to the Catholic faith and a pro-life activist (and short in height!!).  Mother of seven and such a powerful pro-life debater that after a while Planned Parenthood spokeswomen would not go up against her in public, she died at the age of 41 from metastasised breast cancer.

The book is edited by her husband, Michael Pakaluk, and consists mainly of Ruth's own letters written across a period spanning from her college days in Harvard, a spell in Edinburgh and then through many years when she seemingly managed to be both mum and pro-life activist each on a full-time basis in Worcester, Massachusetts.

The book's cover quotes Michael, saying, "Greatness can indeed be shown by a housewife and homemaker, and, furthermore, it might be more readily apparent under conditions of weakness, suffering, and death."  As a member of Opus Dei Ruth would certainly have had a huge heart for the sanctification of herself and the world through her everyday routine and I began reading eagerly, looking to meet someone inspirational I could identify with in my own humble state of life.  However it quickly became apparent that Ruth was no ordinary "housewife and homemaker"; not only was there her Harvard education, but her intelligence evidently had a very intellectual cast, she was terrifyingly articulate and she seemed to be possessed of staggering amounts of talent, determination and willpower in every area.  I did wonder if, had I known her, I might have found her a little intimidating!

St Josemaria, pray for us
Having said this, she certainly shines as a beacon of faith and as an example of what can be achieved through trust in God in outwardly very ordinary circumstances.  When she died there was a call in her home town of Worcester for her cause for sainthood to be put forward.  The various domestic details in her letters, including such identifiable-with incidents as expressing her frustration with a teenage son who dumps his dirty laundry in screwed-up bundles around his room, her particular interests and hobbies, and the very "human" aspects of her character such as a tendency to be very forthright and outspoken, all witness to the fact that Saints too are flawed and fallen human beings whose great virtue is to have abandoned themselves to God and allowed themselves to be channels of His goodness and power to the world in just the same sorts of situations that we all find ourselves in.

Peter Kreeft, who writes an introduction to the book, remarks that Ruth was "always cheerful" even when, in the midst of pain, she laboured at her pro-life work and brought up her large family, "working harder for the culture of life while in poor health than most people ever work when in perfect health".  He comments, "Like Mother Teresa.  Like John Paul II.  They show us that cheerfulness is neither a temporary feeling nor a genetic predisposition but a choice.  A matter of free choice - of will, not emotion... not a teeth-gritting, 'stiff upper lip' cheerfulness but one grounded in truth and in fact, in the certainty of the goodness and wisdom and power of God."

For UK pro-lifers, this book is valuable as an inspiration rather than a resource, as it is very focused on the political set-up in the States and the particular background of Roe v Wade.  However there are some gems of general pro-life and spiritual wisdom to be found throughout the book and particularly in a selection of talks by Ruth that are included at the end.  The core of Ruth's pro-life argument runs as below (summarised by Michael), and it is a useful one.

"Human rights are rights that pertain to us simply in virtue of the fact that we are human, not for any reason above and beyond that; the fundamental human right is the right to life, and so, if that right is denied, then all human rights are in effect denied; the thing growing in the mother's womb is surely alive (otherwise it would not need to be killed by abortion), and it is human; thus, to deny that the thing growing in the mother's womb has the right to life is to deny that anyone has any human rights whatsoever."

The Appalling Strangeness of the Mercy of God, ed Michael Pakaluk, is published by Ignatius, ISBN 978-1-58617-451-4 and is available from Amazon.

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