Defending life in Ordinary Times

Each year, the March for Life is an opportunity to bear witness to the unique dignity of each human being, made in the image of God with an irreplaceable part in the human family. Thousands join me on the cold streets of the nation's capital to remind our leaders of their sacred obligation to defend innocent human life. It is also a day to mourn all those whose young lives have been lost by all we have done and failed to do.

I am grateful to those who witness to life on this day and in this way. The March also invites a thank you note to all those who defend the sanctity of life the other 364 days of the year. 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 he just lost his job while his wife is pregnant with their fifth child. Knowing the desperate thoughts that fill the fearful father's mind, this loyal friend pledges his support. He means it. This friendship means the world and 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 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 selfless, aching love.

Thank you to friends who console a mother who miscarried her child. They understand this grief is deep and raw because a life has ended. 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. The children in their lives will overhear them -- and remember their words more than anyone will ever know.

Thank you to all who dedicate their lives to caring for, teaching, employing, and advocating for those who live with disabilities. In the opportunities you provide, families facing an unexpected pre-natal diagnosis might just see a glimpse of a promising future for their child. They may desperately need your witness to resist the pressures they are so likely to face as they wait to meet 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. 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 girlfriend whose name they do not even know.

Thank you to the religious sisters who 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 any man who has learned he is a father when they remind him that fathers support both their children and the women carrying those children. Extra thanks if those friends have the generosity to help him do this.

Thank you to anyone with the insight to know that, popular opinion notwithstanding, telling a woman carrying a child that "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, judgmental glare. Harried parents 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 for infants they will never know and donate them to pregnancy centers. They hold the loving hope that an exhausted mother may derive the strength to carry on just knowing a handmade gift was specially prepared 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.

May God bless you all for all the ways you live the Gospel of Life in the days of your ordinary times.