In the Gospel of John, Jesus tells the disciples to “love one another as I have loved you” (13:34). The Catholic Church calls each person to this kind of life, treating all people with love. In fact, the Church’s commitment to respecting life “from the womb to the tomb” embodies this message, because all people have value and deserve love, regardless of their age, actions, or state in life. Through its various ministries and people of faith, the Church does not solely advocate this teaching; it lives it, in many powerful ways.
When single mothers or parents are struggling with an unexpected pregnancy—facing additional challenges such as a poor prenatal diagnosis, financial struggles, or relationship issues—many emotions rise to the surface. Fear, anxiousness, sadness, and anger can all play a role in determining the individual or couple’s next steps. Regrettably, for some, abortion appears to be the quickest answer. Catholics pray with and for these individuals, also directing them to pregnancy help centers and parenting resources, facilitating or participating in an adoption and, sometimes most importantly, reminding women they are not alone.
Several initiatives in Michigan recognize the dignity of every mother and baby. The Michigan Pregnancy and Parenting Support Services Program, for example, helps women and children by providing pregnancy counseling, prenatal health information, parenting classes, and material support such as clothing, diapers, and formula. Michigan has partnered with Real Alternatives for several years to provide these services across forty counties, resulting in approximately 20,000 client visits. Michigan Catholic Conference advocated for this policy in recent budget cycles, thereby allowing Catholic ministries to help provide support and care. This policy, along with the work of various pro-life organizations across the state, has helped Michigan witness a nearly three percent decrease in abortions since 2015.
When women—and men—struggle after an abortion, physically, spiritually, and emotionally, the Catholic Church offers opportunities for hope and recovery. Project Rachel, for example, facilitates healing after abortion through pastoral counseling, support groups, retreats, and referrals to licensed mental health professionals. Rachel’s Vineyard, another critical ministry for those suffering after an abortion, allows for time to explore painful emotions through weekend retreats. More than ever, it is imperative to spread the word about these ministries, as state statistics indicate that over the past thirty years, the percentage of women who have had multiple abortions has risen almost ten percent (Michigan DHHS, Induced Abortions Report, 1982–2016).
In addition to post-abortive counseling, the Church is present, like a mother, offering compassionate and life-affirming care to those at the end of their lives. Within the setting of hospice or palliative care, patients are provided opportunities to spend time with loved ones as they transition toward a natural death. These opportunities promote the truth that every life is deserving of respect, regardless of one’s independence or abilities.
Unfortunately, these qualities are often the aspects that determine one’s value in today’s culture. When individuals struggle to care for themselves on their own or to maintain what society deems “a life worth living,” dangerous alternatives are proposed, such as physician assisted suicide. This destructive solution to a complex matter presents numerous dangers to patients and weakens protections for human life overall. Research has indicated those who consider physician assisted suicide are often lonely and depressed, desiring to have loved ones around for their final moments. Others do not want to consider themselves a burden to family members, oftentimes realizing that human sympathy, compassion, and love is the missing ingredient.
Whether the Catholic Church is serving the unborn or the terminally ill, the poor or the immigrant, it is a critical presence for those in need within Michigan communities. The Church offers a radically different message than that of society about individual worth, welcoming all with warmth, compassion, and assistance. While at times the message is challenging, every day offers an opportunity for the Church and its people to “love one another” as Jesus first loved the world.