Delighting in Life

The Gianna Center and Mother Agnes Mary Donovan and her order of women religious offer a model of restorative medicine and how to live.

Doctors see it all. Especially doctors who take the time and want to find solutions. One of those doctors is Anne Nolte, a founder of the National Gianna Center for Women’s Health and Fertility. At the Gianna Center’s annual fundraising dinner, she celebrated mothers and fathers who had love, sought love, and give love. She celebrated a couple who came to her after rejecting the in vitro fertilization approaches that other doctors had insisted on. They are now pregnant with their second child. She celebrated a couple who have opened their home to foster children, and soon adoption. She celebrated a couple with nine flourishing children.

And she celebrated another kind of mother — Mother Agnes Mary Donovan of the Sisters of Life, a religious community of women who make life possible, caring for women who are pregnant and need support, housing them, becoming an integral part of their lives to help families succeed. They are women of joy who help make so much possible. Because they give their lives to service of God, they have hearts totally open to giving, and room to receive people completely, as He would. In this way, they model something that we could all afford to do more, and that the world could use, seeing where we are and how we are. (Where our political and social differences have exacerbated some kind of radical confusion, fear, and anger.)

One of the fundamental questions Mother Agnes often likes to address when asked to speak is: What is love? It’s one of those questions we figures we know the answer to. After all, we love, don’t we? And it’s everywhere in songs and the culture. But it’s not a given, it’s not to be taken for granted.

Mother talks about the importance of not first “doing more” but “allowing oneself to first be moved in delight by the good of the other, and then outwardly manifesting that delight.”  “Are we open to receive another person, allowing our hearts to be moved by some goodness we see and notice in them — such as beauty, strength, vulnerability, generosity? And then do we mirror that back to them, before acting, giving advice or stepping in to help, so that they experience being confirmed in their own goodness?”

“The emphasis is so important,” she says. “Otherwise the other person may feel as if I love them only because I am good” or because you “have to” because you are a parent or a nun or a doctor who has been paid to pay attention to them, rather than “because of any goodness I see within them that is moving me.” “It is the goodness of the other which is the cause of my delight. This true affirmation of another is not always easy. It takes faith, courage, and fortitude. Sometimes I have to work to let go of myself in order to be open to receive the other and allow my heart to be moved in delight.”

“Sometimes,” she adds, “I see the beauty, but it takes the other person a very long time to see what I’ve seen in them. It takes commitment to consistently look beyond repeated mistakes and to love another with constancy, perseverance, courage, and delight. But it’s worth it.”

That’s love. Seeing beyond mistakes, including mistaken ideas or thinking we disagree with — seeing beyond weaknesses and all of the other mess humans tend to bring to the table. The Sisters of Life are who they are and they are not compromising on that. Their position on abortion is clear, for instance. But it’s how they live — how they love — that works miracles. It’s a life dedicated to a God who is love and who makes all things possible. Love like that changes things. Love like that moves us out of a culture of anxiety. Love like that is more powerful and enduring than political campaigns and even judicial precedents. They can overcome immiserating legal realities, as it happens. And so they love.

The Gianna Center is named after an Italian pediatrician who in 1961, when a tumor developed in her, had resolved not to end the life of her unborn child. Gianna died shortly after childbirth, and her daughter travels the world giving thanks for the radical love of her mother for another. We don’t all have to be giving up our lives, but we can afford to become more receptive to other people in ways that show that we see them as unique and worthy of life and reverence. It can literally save lives, as with the life of the Gianna Center and the Sisters and so many others. And it can make love more plausible in a time of some widespread temptations to despair. In the shadow of the Freedom Tour in Tribeca this past Thursday night, the Gianna Center put on display our way out of our slouching toward inhumanity.

This column is based on one available through Andrews McMeel Universal’s Newspaper Enterprise Association.

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