For the Church in the United States, the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision marks a day of prayer for the unborn, and Catholics join others in marching for life in the streets. But as we engage in this prayer and protest, it is essential to go back to the basics of what being pro-life is all about. It is about more than political action, talking points, and marches. It is a mindset and way of life. This way of life needs to be lived in our parishes and homes on a daily basis.
We know that life is sacred from conception, and our parishes embrace the unborn the same way they embrace all of our children, with blessings and prayers. This blessing of the unborn is a relatively new practice and took me by (pleasant) surprise when I was expecting our third child. One Sunday we approached the altar and our priest extended a blessing on what seemed to be both of our children. This seemed out of place, as he usually blesses each child individually. While it was odd, I assumed it was a time-saver, or mommy-saver, since little brother would sometimes bolt after the blessing. It wasn’t until I attended a weekday Mass alone that I understood. As I prepared to receive the Eucharist, our priest made the Sign of the Cross in front of me and offered a blessing, just as he did for our boys. In that moment I understood the blessing from the Sunday before. Our priest didn’t just bless our children standing before him, but their unborn sibling as well. With the Sign of the Cross he blessed them all.
In addition to the outward sign of prayer for our unborn baby, we were able to see our older children embrace the new life of our baby. From the time we told them about their new brother or sister, our boys were thrilled. We knew that we would not find out the sex of the baby, so we gave them the chance to give “Baby” a name for the duration of the pregnancy. They named their sibling “Cranberry,” and he or she was henceforth referred to as such. Following the lead of our parish priest who offered a blessing to Cranberry at Communion, our boys took turns putting Holy Water on my belly. Cranberry’s name joined our prayer list, and our youngest increased his counting abilities from 4 to 5. He would always say, “There are five of us at dinner tonight, but only four chairs because Cranberry doesn’t need a separate chair.”
And then he encountered some resistance. People, even local parishioners, would ask him, “Are you going to be a big brother?” To which he would answer, “I am a big brother.” From the day he learned of “his” baby Cranberry, Cranberry was as alive as any other person in his small world. Sometimes his response would be badly received. He was in no way trying to be rude; he was just stating what was clearly obvious to him: Mommy had his Cranberry in her tummy. Cranberry was his brother or sister. What is difficult for adults to grasp, he understood from the depths of his being. Without question, his baby was a baby. He was already a big brother.
Truly, as Catholics, his response is one we should expect. When asking the youngest of any family about an upcoming birth, we should frame it as, “How is the big brother or sister doing?” These youngest children are already elder siblings from day one. In reframing our question, we can celebrate the personhood of any unborn child.
As a pro-life people, Catholics speak out at this tragic anniversary. Some march, some write letters, most pray, but we should never forget to use our daily words, thoughts, and actions to celebrate the unborn. We can reframe our questions and speech to include an unborn child into the families of those around us. We can bless our unborn in the same way as our older children. The mindset of the world can only change if we own the preciousness of unborn life and live in such a way that we never question the importance of our own baby Cranberries. We should celebrate the big brothers and big sisters who wait with anticipation to finally hold their own baby brother or sister. In short, may we bless them all, in word and deed.