We are blessed with the gift of life…

October is Respect Life month and dedicated to Mary, the mother of God and the mother of Life. Rightly we begin with prayer for the unborn and advocacy for the end of abortion. We begin with the obvious principle that unless there is first life, no other rights or opportunities will exist.

We also pray for and seek to accompany mothers who have or are facing tough decisions in difficult times. Programs like the Mother Teresa Fund and Project Rachel offer support and listening ears.

Respect life also includes respecting the disabled, those in their last days and all those vulnerable who our secular culture marginalizes and demeans as unproductive or not worthy.

Among the high profile respect life realities is racism which some call the original sin of our country. It is a subtle but real presence not only in the distant past but today. Native Americans have suffered from both direct discrimination and subtle disrespect from the beginnings of our state. Sadly it continues today. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is preparing to address the sin of racism in a more intense way.

Respect life also ought to include all those in the years in between conception and natural death for those who face so many challenges economically, socially, educationally, medically. In other words, respect for life includes us all.

We search for some context to put all this into perspective. In some ways it comes down to each of us personally as disciples of Christ. Whatever are government policies, media focus or contradicting group actions, it comes down to what is in our heart and whether we have the courage built on the grace of baptism and the teachings of Christ to treat others with respect and therefore witness the call of Christ: what you do for the least of my children you do for me. We can control our own responses and actions.

This attack on life from courts, politicians, media, education professionals and so many other persons and institutions seems overwhelming. We might be tempted to throw up our hands and conclude there is no hope. Personal stories can bring perspective.

Especially needing our respect, patience and witness are the children. They are ever vulnerable yet beautiful signs of hope.

I was moved by an account carried by the internet source Aleteia and reported by Cerinth Gardiner under the title “Father shares 10 most important things he learned after losing his 3-year old son.”

It recalls a Facebook entry by Richard Pringle from England who wrote after suddenly losing his son Hughie to a fast moving brain hemorrhage. This grieving father offered these suggestions for expressing love in a world when all life is fragile which he said he learned in retrospect and which he would now apply to his other children. These “things” in some ways can apply to all relationships with those who are important to us and to how we relate to others.

His suggestions to parents:

  1. You can never ever kiss and love too much.
  2. You always have time. Stop what you’re doing and play, even if it’s for a minute. Nothing’s that important that it can’t wait.
  3. Take as many photos and record as many videos as humanly possible. One day that might be all you have.
  4. Don’t spend money, spend time. You think what you spend matters? It doesn’t. What you do matters. Jump in puddles, go for walks. Swim in the sea, build a camp and have fun. That’s all they want. I can’t remember what we bought Hughie; I can only remember what we did.
  5. Sing. Sing songs together. My happiest memories are of Hughie sitting on my shoulders or sitting next to me in the car singing our favorite songs. Memories are created in music.
  6. Cherish the simplest of things. Night times, bedtimes, reading stories. Dinners together. Lazy Sunday’s. Cherish the simplest of times. They are what I miss the most. Don’t let those special times pass you unnoticed.
  7. Always kiss those you love goodbye and if you forget, go back and kiss them. You never know if it’s the last time you’ll get the chance.
  8. Make boring things fun. Shopping trips, car journeys, walking to the shops. Be silly, tell jokes, laugh, smile and enjoy yourselves. They’re only chores if you treat them like that. Life is too short not to have fun.
  9. Keep a journal. Write down everything your little ones do that lights up your world. The funny things they say, the cute things they do. We only started doing this after we lost Hughie. We wanted to remember everything. Now we do it for Hettie (daughter) and will for Hennie (new born son). You’ll have these memories written down forever and when you’re older you can look back and cherish every moment.
  10. If you have your children with you. To kiss goodnight. To have breakfast with. To walk to school. To take to the university. To watch get married. You are blessed. Never forget that.

The reporter concluded; “This list is so much more than just a reminder to parents to cherish their kids in case the worst happens: it’s a reminder that kids grow up in a flash – although it may not seem like it when we’re in the midst of tantrums and bedlam. We need to appreciate the experience of parenting and never forget how blessed we truly are…If by chance my own little angels start misbehaving I’ll look at the list and embrace the fact they’re still around to misbehave.”

The wisdom in these thoughts brought forth from grieving is worthy in recognizing the value of children of any age and any relationships we are privileged to share.

“At that time the disciples approached Jesus and said, ‘who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ He called a little child over, placed it in their midst and said, ‘Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me.’” (Mt 18:1-5)


We are blessed with the gift of life ourselves and with the gift of the lives of others. May we never forget that.

Bishop Swain's Column, October 2017,