News has circulated this week about Pope Francis baptizing 32 infants in Rome. During his homily, he told the infants’ mothers to go ahead and feed the babies if they’re hungry. Breastfeed them in Church, in the Sistine Chapel even. It was also noted that he baptized the baby of a couple who were in an irregular marriage.
Why is any of this news? Why does it matter? Because the Pope has declared anything goes and he really wants to relax the standards at the Vatican?
It matters because nearly every mother of young children has wondered at some point if her children really are welcome at Church. She’s received the odd glances when her child starts to cry. She’s spent hot, loud, services battling her young in the cry room. And she’s asked herself, if the church is so pro-life, why does it feel like such an inhospitable place for children?
It matters because 40 percent of live births in America are to unwed mothers. That’s 1.6 million babies whose mother’s chose life in spite of their irregular relationships, in spite, perhaps, of their poverty or addiction, in spite of the fact that they may rely on government assistance or charity for many of their most basic needs. If the church is pro-life, it cannot bar these babies and their families from the life of the Church.
It matters because breastfeeding is good for the environment and public health. It prevents diseases in children and obesity in their mothers. It’s affordable for those with low incomes, and cuts down on carbon emissions from bottle and formula manufacturing. And if the church is pro-life, it must care about public health and the environment that our children will inherit.
The press has noticed that Pope Francis doesn’t speak explicitly against abortion very often. His recent statement declaring abortion a “horrific” symptom of a throwaway culture, appears to be his strongest statement on the issue to date, if you are willing to ignore the way he has consistently, since the first days of his papacy, outlined what it means to be pro-life, as opposed to just anti-abortion.
Pope Francis is making it clear that a person–once granted a right to life–also has an invitation to life in the Church. Yes, you can be hungry, dirty, poor, imperfect, improperly catechized, poorly dressed, born of a single mom, or of parents who are not Catholic and still enter the Church. Come and see, and we’ll let the Holy Spirit work with us from there.
This matters tremendously, because it’s not enough for pro-life people to say, “Yes, you must live, but live over there please.” Most undesired pregnancies do not yield well-adjusted citizens that go on to happy middle class lives, seek out a nice RCIA class, and become fellow fervent soldiers in the fields of the Lord.
If we can see these realities and say, yes, your life still matters, and I want you here, in my house with me, eating with me, bathing in the waters of eternal life with me, then we may be able to keep pace with Pope Francis’s consistent and boldly proclaimed pro-life message.