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Thoughts from a Convert on the Sanctity of Life

By: Anjanette Barr

A dozen years ago I worked at a Protestant-run pregnancy resource center. I spent my days listening to the difficult stories of women and families who were unexpectedly expecting, and I did my best to offer Godly encouragement and advice. The latter was the more challenging by far. I was newly married, without children, and there are very few established guidelines in the contemporary Protestant culture that speak definitively on the issues of life and reproduction.

Our organization had a beautiful ethos centered on God’s love for every person – no matter how tiny – and everyone genuinely cared for each client that came through the doors. Working there was a joy in almost every way, but I quickly found that I needed to do some independent study if I wanted to feel confident in the answers I gave these families.

Among the gospel tracts, Focus on the Family brochures, and pregnancy books in our library, there was a thin white book labeled, “The Custody Dispute Over Seven Human Embryos: The Testimony of Professor Jerome Lejeune.” (The text of this book can also be read in the Ignatius Press book “The Concentration Can.”) My director hadn’t read it, and had no idea where it had come from, but I found it so compelling that I read many sections to her aloud.

Dr. Jerome Lejeune, the French geneticist who discovered that Downs Syndrome is caused by extra genetic material in chromosome 21, testified in 1989 in the custody dispute of a divorced couple. It was Dr. Lejeune’s task to offer scientific evidence as to whether the seven cryogenically frozen embryos the couple created were persons or property.

His testimony, rooted in both science and his Catholic faith, was so confident and articulate that I read every word wide-eyed, with my heartbeat pounding in my ears. He had seen, over and over again, that human life is nothing less than that – uniquely human, and very much alive – from the moment of conception. Reading a description of the works of our infinitely creative God from the perspective of a man who had spent decades studying life’s tiniest building blocks, DNA, forever changed the way I spoke and thought about the miracle of pregnancy and birth.

As my husband and I examined our own plans for growing our family, we realized that we had been largely following the path of least resistance. Catholic teachings on conception, contraception, and abortion were not the easiest to implement, but they were usually the most logical. Perhaps they were illogical if our end goal was to optimize our own existence at the expense of others’, but because our hope was instead to live our lives for God’s glory, we couldn’t escape the consistency of the reasoning offered by the Catholic Church.

Catholics have unique resources available to us that are absolute treasures. Heroes of the faith like Dr. Lejeune and Pope John Paul II have written eloquently on contemporary issues that Christians are called to consider if we want to practice true religion. The Catechism of the Catholic Church also provides thoughtful and comprehensive answers to questions about the beginning and end of life, and our responsibilities in these matters. We even have more Scripture to read than our Protestant friends. I felt very blessed to open the deuterocanonical book of Wisdom a few days ago and find a reminder that God does not delight in death. He created us in His image to be eternal, and His creation is good.

I turned to these resources time and again, long before my conversion, as a steadfast foundation to build monumental life decisions upon. I was jealous for my Protestant family that we didn’t have wisdom like this to call on in our own traditions, and relying so much on Catholic teachings in this area no doubt planted the seeds of trust that would eventually grow into my full communion with the Church.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops puts a special focus on the issues surrounding sanctity of life during the month of January. Many of our brothers and sisters will gather in the nation’s capitol for a prayer vigil and other activities on January 17th, and January 22nd is a special day of prayer for the legal protection of unborn children. Consider taking this day to pray, fast, give alms, and learn what the Church has to say about the value of every human being.

We have a legacy of true compassion and holistic advocacy to be proud of in the Catholic Church. We can and should be known in the world as people of wisdom. A wisdom, as Dr. Lejeune would say, “that man did not invent… that is summed up in one sentence that explains everything. That answers everything. That tells everyone at every moment what they should or should not do. This sentence is very simple. It has been taught by the Master of all of us: ‘What you have done for the least of my brethren, you have done for me.’”

Anjanette Barr is a parishioner at St. Paul the Apostle in Juneau, Alaska. She is a wife, mother, writer, and recent convert to the Catholic Church. Anjanette can be reached at www.anjanettebarr.com