By Barb Arland-Fye
Today, Jan. 22, marks the 42nd anniversary of the Roe v Wade Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion in the United States. This decision galvanized the Catholic Church to work tirelessly to protect life in the womb, then and now. Catholic social teaching also calls us to honor and protect life at all stages of existence — a commitment that requires a precious commodity: giving of ourselves.
Selfless giving requires patience, perseverance, compassion, sacrifice. Not just to family and friends, but to troubled youths and adults; individuals living with mental illness, physical or intellectual disabilities; people who are homeless; alcoholic or drug addicts; people that society has given up on. Residents in nursing homes, some of whom won’t remember our names or the visits we’ve made.
Dennis Haut of St. Anthony Parish in Davenport is a recovering alcoholic and drug addict who made the commitment to respect life – his and many more. Dennis has devoted these past 10 years of his life to Unity House, a nonprofit transitional housing program for people in recovery from substance and behavioral addictions. His office administrator, Jamie McWade, estimates Dennis has assisted 2,000 people over the past decade. During an anniversary celebration for Unity House Jan. 16, a couple approached Dennis and said, “You gave us back our son.” The young man stood beside his parents, smiling.
The work consumes Dennis. It’s not easy; some individuals are repeat visitors to Unity House. But he strives to practice the mercy that Pope Francis speaks about often. Mercy is in short supply in our culture; as Christians we would do well to exercise it, much as we exercise our bodies to maintain physical fitness and longer lives.
Kent Ferris, director of Social Action and of Catholic Charities for the Diocese of Davenport, presented Dennis with Catholic Charities’ Good Neighbor Award for his dedication to men striving to turn their lives around. Kent serves on Unity House’s Board of Directors and mentors two men from Scott County Drug Court (one of whom has graduated).
He’s also striving to create Circles of Support to assist more individuals. Kent invests of himself in the lives of others in addition to his family. They joined him at the awards ceremony and got up at 5 a.m. the next day to attend the Midwest Mass for Life and March for Life in Des Moines.
Writing in America magazine, Serrin Foster, president of Feminists for Life of America, speaks of another sacrifice for life – the care, nurturing and empowerment of women dealing with unplanned pregnancies. “We should start by addressing the needs of women – for family housing, child care, maternity coverage, for the ability to telecommunicate to school or work, to job-share, to make a living wage and to find practical resources” (America, Jan. 19-26, 2015).
Foster shared details of a successful Georgetown University program inspired by a forum that Feminists for Life moderated in 1997. Since then, pregnant and parenting students have access to housing, health services and babysitting.
Georgetown hosts a Pregnancy Resource Forum annually to take another look at ways to improve, Foster added. It’s an investment, a sacrifice of money, time and people – a commitment to the lives of mother and child.
In that same spirit, each of us can commemorate Roe v Wade by demonstrating a commitment to life from womb to tomb:
• Pray at home or outside a Planned Parenthood clinic for an end to abortion
• Serve as a mentor to someone struggling with addiction or mental illness
• Become an extraordinary minister of the Eucharist and bring Communion to individuals in the hospital or nursing home
• Get involved in prison ministry
• Shovel your older neighbor’s sidewalk
• Volunteer at your parish or various organizations
• Babysit for a family of a child with physical or mental disabilities
“Be sanctuaries of respect for life, proclaiming the sacredness of every human life from conception to natural death,” Pope Francis said during his Feb. 16 visit to Manila, Philippines.