By Anne McGuire
A couple years ago, I lived with my friend Jenna*, who often prayed outside a local abortion facility. During her visits, she frequently saw a man who escorted women into the facility. Although Jenna didn't initially speak with him, they eventually found themselves standing next to each other during their respective "shifts." Upon arrival, she would ask him how he was.
Eventually the pleasantries evolved into bigger conversations - never to do with abortion, though. We just talked about his passion for YouTube, visiting his friends on vacations, our jobs, etc. I even ended up learning his childhood nickname and when his birthday was.
He usually took a pause from his duties as an escort for a coffee break, so on his birthday, I offered to go get it for him... I just wanted to get a guy coffee for his birthday.
I remember when I asked him, he looked kind of shell-shocked, as though he were thinking, "Wait a minute; you're not supposed to want to do that..."
I was reminded of Jenna's story by Pope Francis's recent apostolic exhortation The Joy of Love (Amoris Laetitia). In it, the Holy Father explains, "Love opens our eyes and enables us to see, beyond all else, the great worth of a human being" (AL 128).
Jenna's encounter with this man illustrates the heart of the Gospel of Life. We are created to behold all people with the gaze of Christ, loving them for their own sake. Remembering that St. John Paul II called us to a "civilization of love and life" (EV 27), we recognize that this gaze is meant for each and every person. Pope Francis also reminds us that Jesus "never failed to show compassion and closeness to the frailty of individuals" who had fallen (AL 38).
We are all in need of God's mercy, and we are all called to show Christ's compassion to others - including people with whom we disagree on life issues. Doing so does not undermine our efforts to protect lives. Each human being has "a place in God's heart from all eternity" (AL 168), and love for everyone is foundational to our pro-life efforts.
In a homily at the Chapel of Santa Marta, Pope Francis spoke about "the God of surprises" (October 13, 2014). Following in Christ's footsteps, let us seek to be God's people of surprises - like Jenna was for this man on his birthday. Instead of being hostile or defensive, may our efforts to promote respect and protection for all human life reflect "a love that constantly opens doors" (AL 108).
*Name changed to protect privacy.
Anne McGuire is Assistant Director of Education and Outreach for the USCCB Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities. To learn more about the bishops' pro-life activities, visit www.usccb.org/prolife. Join the Bishops' Call to Prayer for Life, Marriage & Religious Liberty!www.usccb.org/pray