Politics & Policy

The Good News at Notre Dame

A mother’s love in South Bend

South Bend, Ind. — Stunning. Captivating. Innocent. Humble.

Andrew was clearly taken with the woman.

“She symbolizes so much, a resignation to His will, an utter awe and reverence for the beauty of life — regardless the circumstance — and she provides a voice for those without a voice.”

The beauty got to him. Considering how often we can be attracted to that which is harmful to us, her pure beauty seemed to offer a loving protection.

The woman was Mary, the Mother of God, as she appeared to Juan Diego, in Mexico in 1531. Like so many young people, though raised Catholic, Andrew didn’t truly know what the Christian’s call to radical discipleship is. But Andrew credits Our Lady of Guadalupe with turning his head: She focused his attention on the richness of a life of chastity and integrity, and led him to service in Honduras as a lay missionary, and to the pro-life work he’s doing now in New York.

The late John Paul II knew she would capture lives like Andrew’s. He called the pregnant Mary, as she appeared in Guadalupe, the “Star of the New Evangelization.”

This effect could be seen in a penetrating way in South Bend, Ind., recently, where over 24 pro-life students, parents, doctors, lawyers, teachers, and other professionals took two weeks to work through how to be better defenders of the most innocent among us.

They convened for Project Guadalupe, the baby of the Notre Dame Fund to Protect Human Life, chaired by philosophy professor David Solomon. This June its inaugural Vitae Institute event was held, in which participants, with birthdays spanning five decades, were given a satchel of tools they may have been lacking. They walked away from two weeks of lectures and workshops and interaction and prayer seeing a fuller picture of the state of human dignity in America and the world, with classes in biology, philosophy, theology, law, psychology, and more. It was an opportunity to feed an intellectual and spiritual thirst and compare notes on how to be truly engaged, effective, and comprehensive. And an overarching — highlighted and underlined — reminder to always be loving, above all.

As Notre Dame alumnus Bill McGurn, a former presidential speechwriter and Wall Street Journal columnist, told the Vitae gathering: “We are not simply after the outlawing of abortion, though a law may be the result of our efforts . . . We stand for something much more difficult and far more consequential: an America that protects the unborn in law because she welcomes them in life.”

And where better to proclaim this, than under the twelve-foot-tall, 2,000-pound Mary atop the school’s golden dome?

As McGurn put it: “At times it might be tempting to think, ‘We are just one judge or one law away from getting what we want.’ At these moments, it’s important to recognize that the only secure defense for the unborn is persuading our fellow citizens of the dignity of each human life. That’s true of the unborn child, yes. But it’s true of the mother and father too — and it’s true even of the men and women who would abort that child.”

Persuading with love. Mercy and redemption start with an embrace. That’s the story former Planned Parenthood director Abby Johnson tells in her book Unplanned, about her journey to pro-life activism. She was horrified by participating in an ultrasound-guided abortion; and, over time, she was stirred by the loving kindness of pro-life activists she couldn’t help encountering as part of her daily life.

Pope Benedict XVI recently said: “The Gospel is the ever new proclamation of the salvation wrought by Christ to render humanity a participant in the mystery of God and in his life of love and to open it to a future of sure and strong hope. To underscore that at this moment in the history of the Church she is called to carry out a New Evangelization, means intensifying missionary action to correspond fully with the Lord’s mandate.”

That’s what was happening in South Bend: the care and feeding of missionaries. And where else but a university dedicated to the mother of God should we be reminded of the need to lovingly approach one another in all our wounds, confident that walking together we can expect so much more of ourselves and our society than leaving this life-and-death issue largely to politics. The debate about abortion in America today really needs to be about men and women looking at their fellow men and women in their communities, and being truly loving and attentive, truth-telling and receptive to their needs and pain. It’s about being mothers and fathers to a culture that has lost sight of what it means to be a mother and father.

Hope is in South Bend. Notre Dame may be known better as a football haven and a kind of Catholic Disneyland, which, whenever it makes non-sports headlines, seems to be a school in identity crisis. And in a way it is. It’s not the coherent rock it could be.

But there’s a sacramental nature to Notre Dame, a commitment to service, as evidenced in a beautiful way by its Catholic-school teacher-training programs. And, on campus right past a monument to Domers who gave their lives for our nation in the military, there is the lighthouse and intellectual powerhouse Solomon has built for a culture that, if it truly knew what it was doing, would be running into the arms of divine mercy and love.

The Vitae message is, in a properly ordered way, the campaign motto of the school’s controversial 2009 commencement speaker and honoree, the current president of the United States: “Yes we can.” It’s answering the call that a young woman named Mary heard, two millennia ago, to live a life of trusting service to Love. Our lives can be lived in service in the light of that bright star: Stunning. Captivating. Innocent. Humble.

When you think of the pro-life movement in America today, don’t think of a protest placard or a presidential debate. Think of Project Guadalupe. Sending forth and renewing. Transfixed on the transformational, to renew the face of the earth. The face of the pro-life movement is a mother with child. And when you truly think of it this way, and look to meet her and all her challenges and pain and gifts and loves, that changes everything.

Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online. This column is available exclusively throughUnited Media.

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