Over the past few months, the McGrath Institute for Church Life’s Office of Life and Human Dignity has been hosting a series of webinars entitled “Conversations that Matter.” The goal of this series is to spark authentic dialogue that deepens our commitment to our fellow sisters and brothers without the polarization and vitriol that currently characterize these conversations. This semester’s focus is the “Intersection of Justice and Pregnancy.” These particular webinars are structured to widen the scope of understanding about the work of the pro-life movement, societal structures that impact women, and supporting women who are in crisis. In learning more about these topics, we hope that conversations will move beyond the categories of pro-life and pro-choice to empathy and creativity in support of both moms and their unborn children.
It was nearing the end of my sophomore year. I had a pretty similar life to everyone around me. I’d wake up in the morning earlier than what was healthy so I could get to my 7:30 AM class at my school 30 minutes away. My dad would usually have eggs and bacon ready for me by the time I was out of the shower and my mom always made me a smoothie that tasted exactly how it looked—like slop. I finished up classes for the day, and then came my favorite part of the day: hockey practice. Playing hockey was the one thing that got me through the school day because I never felt more free than when I was skating, with the cold air against my face while my feet glided across a smooth surface of ice.
“It is good that you exist.”
This beautiful phrase from Principles of Catholic Theology by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (later Benedict XVI) succinctly captures the inherent truth underlying a Catholic understanding of supporting and loving those with a mental illness. Despite my instinct to argue that this is self-evident and simple, yet another pope reminds me that a Catholic understanding of mental illness requires important theological reflection and incorporation of the most updated neuropsychiatric knowledge in order to affirm this truth.
We can look to the heavens, or the mountains, or the vast ocean and marvel at the work of our creator. The Lord reveals himself to us through his creation, and when we take a moment to stop and behold his majesty, we are in awe. But what about the pinnacle of God’s creation? What about the human person?
Today, the Church honors St. Maximilian Kolbe, a Franciscan priest who volunteered to die in place of a fellow prisoner at Auschwitz, thus embodying the teaching of Jesus, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13). Yet this last and greatest act of St. Maximilian did not emerge from a vacuum; it was the result of a lifetime of being conformed to Christ through prayer and sacrifice. Only by consistently practicing self-denial, by dying to himself and taking up his cross daily, could St. Maximilian have been conformed to Christ to such a degree that he was in that pivotal moment able to imitate Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross, laying down his life so that another might live.