Bathwater Saints

Bathwater Saints February 4, 2014

Guess what I lerned on Facebook the other day?  Nah, you’ll never guess, so I’ll just tell you: Abby Johnson is a fake pro-lifer.  She just sits on her ass (that’s a direct quote) and bathes in publicity, without actually accomplishing anything.  She’s not really pro-life — not pro-life enough.

This statement is so patently nutty that it’s hard to even know how to respond.  Abby Johnson, who is pregnant, appears to spend almost no time sitting down — busy as she is with And Then There Were None and now partnering with the Guiding Star Project to open a Resource Center and Maternity Home in Texas, where she lives.  Johnson is ministering directly, with spiritual, emotional, and tangible physical aid and support, both to abortion industry workers, and to women who need help beyond the choice to keep their babies.

Let’s review:  Abby Johnson gives people a reason to stop performing abortions.  She gives people a reason not to get abortions.  She drags her pregnant self around the country, daily exposing herself to abuse from the left and from the right, and has literally made an open book of her life and her past with Planned Parenthood.  If anyone is saving babies and women (and men) from abortion, it’s Abby Johnson.

But . . . she’s not pro-life enough.

The only explanation I can find for such an idea is what I call “bathwater thinking.”  You’ve heard of throwing out the baby with the bathwater?  This is mistaking the bathwater for the baby.  Sometimes people are so devoted to a particular way of achieving something good,they make the way their main focus — their “baby” — while the original goal becomes the amorphous, disposable background.  It’s bathwater thinking that leads people to believe that someone like Abby Johnson isn’t pro-life, because she doesn’t check off all the boxes in the How To Be Pro-Life checklist, which was drafted forty years ago.

Bathwater thinking.  You forget the baby, the living, breathing people involved, and wallow around in that warm, familiar bathwater of your indisputably worthy cause.

Let’s think about St. Gianna Molla.  A good many people believe that this woman’s greatness came in her eager, joyful acceptance of death in order to save her baby.  Not so.  It is true that she was willing to accept the risk of death when she refused the therapeutic hysterectomy that would have killed her unborn child.  And she did end up giving her life so that her baby could live.  But the whole time, she prayed and hoped and longed to live. She wasn’t devoted to being pro-life: she was devoted to her baby.  And she wanted to live, so that she could be with her baby and her husband and the rest of her beloved children.  She was pro-life:  she hoped for life in abundance, including her own.

The same is true, in a somewhat different way, for St. Maria Goretti.  Over and over, I’ve heard this saint praised as a holy girl who prized her viginity so highly that she was willing to die to defend it.  And she did die as a result of defending her viginity.  But when her would-be rapist attacked her, she pleaded with him to stop because he would be committing a mortal sin, and he would go to hell.  She didn’t say, “Please, please, spare my virginity!” She begged him to spare himself.  

This is what it looks like when someone is close to God:  they want to spare the person.  They are in love with life.  They are focused not on the idea of morality, but on the person whose life and safety (whether physical or spiritual) are at stake.

In Maria Goretti’s case, she was focused on her rapist — and I am sure it was her love for him, and not her blindingly pure devotion to chastity, that converted him and brought him to repentance before she died.  That is how conversions happen.  That is how people are saved:  when other people show love for them.  It’s about other people.  It’s always about our love for other people.  That’s why, before someone is declared a saint, they have to perform two miracles for people still on earth.  Even after death, it’s not about the cause or the system or the virtue in the abstract.  It’s always about our love for other people.

Ideas like holiness, chastity, humility, charity, diligence, or any other virtue that springs to mind when you think of a saint?  These are bathwater.  These are the things that surround and support the “baby” of love in action.  A bath without bathwater is no good; but a bath without someone to be bathed is even more pointless. God doesn’t want bathwater saints, ardently devoted to a cause or a principle or a movement or a virtue.  God wants us to love and care for each other.  Love for each other is how we order our lives.  Love for each other is how we serve God.

It’s always about our love for other people.


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