I was at a Sisters of Life convent the other day for a press conference where Cardinal Timothy Dolan reissued a pledge that the Church in New York will help any woman who is pregnant and in need.
I thought of a statue a bit further upstate in the archdiocese at a Marian shrine run by Don Bosco’s Salesians. It’s of Don Bosco surrounded by boys and the words, “anyone who is in trouble is my friend.” The message of the Church that morning was similar: Are you in trouble? Let’s be friends. We’d be “honored” to serve you, the cardinal said. And when you see the Sisters of Life, all you really see is love and who they truly are — beloved by God and looking at you as he sees you, as he loves you, as much as any human being can.
We’re all in trouble in some way. We need more friendship, not less. What the world needs now is love, sweet love.
But what is love, anyway? What is love in a culture that seems to prefer politics and even abortion to the power of the life of virtue? How can it reinsert itself in a powerful way in our national conversations?
The upcoming movie “Unplanned” could help. A movie about a journey out of the misery of abortion is actually an uncommon love story; it tells the story of Abby Johnson’s exit from Planned Parenthood. Her husband, Doug, had no love for the organization, but he loved Abby through every step of her journey from clinic director to now running a ministry for abortion clinic workers who want to leave. A young man and woman getting to the truth of God’s will for their lives in love. Helping one another to heaven, whether they always knew it or not. And so it continues.
At the annual New York Encounter cultural festival that the lay ecclesial movement Communion and Liberation puts on, I listened to the widower of Chiara Corbella Petrillo — a millennial Servant of God — talk about his wife’s short life and her death. They had suffered greatly with painful pregnancies that were beacons of grace. Her third pregnancy coincided with a cancer diagnosis. She wouldn’t be treated until their child was born, and by then she was too weak. Days before she died, in front of the Blessed Sacrament, her husband asked her if the suffering was “sweet.” “So sweet,” she said. She was as close as it gets in this world to Christ.
I thought about that in the context of a New York Times spread on priests with same-sex attractions. Our culture encourages us to identify as all kinds of things that distract from who we are: loved into existence by Love himself. When we realize that, we can look beyond ourselves and see the needs of others and care for them first.
We all are in trouble because we are all human and don’t always see our belovedness. We are a Church in need of reform. We are a world in need of tenderness. A starting point might be going to only that which is life-giving. Imagine a week where all our thoughts, words and deeds doubled down on love. How about starting with an hour — this hour, now? That might mean staying off social media. So be it, then. Or even share love there.
I lingered after that press conference with the cardinal to see Sena Love, the daughter of an immigrant mom who had been helped by the sisters, kiss an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe in a pew in the house chapel. It was the most natural thing in the world for her, who knew love and the source of it.
Look to our Blessed Mother, help mothers — including supporting our consecrated religious — and maybe the Church can be seen and known as Mother again.
Kathryn Jean Lopez is a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, editor-at-large of National Review and co-author of “How to Defend the Faith Without Raising Your Voice” (OSV, $17.95).