Hope Bethany ’15
Fellow, Center for Liturgy
About a week and a half ago, I journeyed to the March for Life in Washington, D.C. with nearly 700 fellow students from the Notre Dame, St. Mary’s, and Holy Cross community. I tried on the way there to write a “Why We March” piece. And then I tried on the way back to turn the bits and pieces of thoughts into a “Why We Marched” reflection. This may come as a shocker, but bumpy, overnight, cross-country bus rides are not the most conducive writing environments.
Bus rides may not be good for writing, but they are good for pondering, and I pondered one thought all along the way. The thought was the quote: “It is good that you exist,” and it tied my whole March for Life 2015 experience together from beginning to end. I remembered reading a line of Pope Benedict XVI’s talking about how it is important for people to know: “It is good that you exist.” (To give fair credit where it’s due, the quote was probably in my mind because of this recent post from Elizabeth Scalia over at the Patheos blog network.) I wondered about using the quote as a sort of posture in which to march and to carry the spirit of the March forward into the rest of the year—expressing that to be pro-life is to say: “It is good that you exist” to all of humanity, from conception to natural death.
This “It is good that you exist” reflection comes from Pope Benedict XVI’s 2011 Christmas address to the Roman Curia. During the address, Pope Benedict reflected on the joy that he had experienced at World Youth Day. The full quote is a gift, and so you’ll find it here:
“Where does it [joy] come from? How is it to be explained? Certainly, there are many factors at work here. But in my view, the crucial one is this certainty, based on faith: I am wanted; I have a task in history; I am accepted, I am loved. Josef Pieper, in his book on love, has shown that man can only accept himself if he is accepted by another. He needs the other’s presence, saying to him, with more than words: it is good that you exist. Only from the You can the I come into itself. Only if it is accepted, can it accept itself. Those who are unloved cannot even love themselves. This sense of being accepted comes in the first instance from other human beings. But all human acceptance is fragile. Ultimately we need a sense of being accepted unconditionally. Only if God accepts me, and I become convinced of this, do I know definitively: it is good that I exist. It is good to be a human being.”
In fact, that idea of peoples’ necessity to know, “It is good that you exist” must have been a theme for Pope Benedict XVI, because years earlier, (as Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger) he had written,
“If an individual is to accept himself, someone must say to him: “It is good that you exist” – must say it, not with words, but with that act of the entire being that we call love” (Principles of Catholic Theology, 74).
The ‘theme’ this year for the March was “Every Life is a Gift.” But I think that we can only say and mean, “Every Life is a Gift” if we affirm to the most vulnerable in our world the goodness of existence.
So to be pro-life in this line of thought means to say, by act, in prayer, by attention, with tenderness, with “the act of the entire being that we call love” the following: It is wonderfully good that you exist, young mothers, isolated and scared of facing the realities of an unintended pregnancy. It is so, so good that you exist, beautiful little ones with Downs Syndrome. It is very good that you exist, men who have no idea how or if you’re going to be a father. We are so grateful that you exist, grandmothers and grandfathers who are tired, and sick, and aren’t sure how much time you have. You are loved for who you are, not what you can do or will do or will never do. You are loved because you exist.*
There are some other beautiful examples of how this kind of love can come about. One of my favorite examples comes from Marilynne Robinson’s novel Gilead. In it, John Ames writes to his young son, saying: “But it’s your existence I love you for, mainly. Existence seems to me now the most remarkable thing that could ever be imagined.”
That image of John Ames loving his young son simply for his existence in a way that aligns with the thought of Pope Benedict XVI is just about the most pro-life posture I can imagine, if we have the courage to extend it to those we encounter. What if we loved each person in our world in the same way? Each woman, man, and child on this earth—especially those whom, by all appearances, the world is willing to throw away—needs to know they are dearly loved and supported and treasured. They are loved by God and also by us, even if they never felt that or knew that until now. They need to know it with more than just words; they need to know with tangible support and time and love. We need to reach out, to tell them: “It is good that you exist.”
We know that we can only love, as 1 John 4 says, because “[God] first loved us.” In and through the mystery of faith, we are invited to love people with God’s love so that they may know that God loves them. Our human love may only be a shadow and a tiny foretaste of our heavenly Father’s tender love for His children, but we need each other in order to know that it is good that we exist. We need each other, so that ultimately we may all turn together in adoration, with our whole hearts and lives to the ultimate love, who poured Himself out for us on the Cross.
This is why the posture of “It is good that you exist” can help extend the witness of the March. It means taking the experience of the solidarity of the hundreds of thousands of people on the March for Life, joyously shouting the slogans like, “We love babies!” and “Pro-Woman, Pro-Life!” and turning that passion and joy into a tangible part of the daily Christian life. The Notre Dame Right to Life Club already does this in very admirable ways, by supporting the pregnancy resource center near campus, organizing visits to nursing homes and having game nights with the elderly, and working with the Hannah Project, spending time with children and adults with a variety of disabilities. All of these pro-life activities state by their collective actions, by their decisions and their time, and by their attention to the individual that it is good that people exist.
This is idealistic, I know, and one post cannot engage all of the arguments and intricacies surrounding those who have suffered because of abortion or other hurts and sins against human dignity all over the world. But I hope that this post can serve as encouragement, as a suggestion for a way of “moving on” from the March for Life. This way proclaims by word, by deed, by attention to the most vulnerable a very simple message: you are loved for your very existence. That is good that we exist. It is good that you, beloved child of God, exist, and it always will be.
*(We could go on to refer to immigrants and refugees, the homeless, the mentally ill . . . obviously, the pro-life movement doesn’t get the monopoly on calling existence “good”: God beat us all to it in the first days of creation. See Gn 1.)