Today my uncle David passed away.
My uncle was addicted to alcohol and drugs. He spent years drinking and taking all kinds of drugs. He became homeless. People would shun him on the streets. He was arrested countless times for public intoxication. He was in and out of prison many times for this – but never hurt anyone except himself.
He was also a really good man.
Most of you know that I’m pro-life. Some of you might think that means I’m judgmental. This couldn’t be farther from the truth.
Let me tell you how I first became pro-life. It wasn’t in biology class when I read about life beginning when the sperm and egg meet. I don’t understand how anyone can dispute scientifically that life begins at that moment, but that’s actually not how I became pro-life. I became pro-life in eighth grade when my mother first told me the story of how my uncle became an addict.
When my uncle was twenty, he was deeply in love with a woman. He proposed to her. She said “yes.” Shortly after, she learned she was expecting. She was embarrassed. He was embarrassed. She said it wasn’t the right time. He said “it’ll be OK, we love each other, we’ll love this baby.”
She decided she still didn’t want to have a baby yet. He asked her to reconsider. She scheduled an abortion. The clinic said she would be asleep and that she wouldn’t feel anything.
She asked my uncle, her fiance, to go to the clinic with her. Even though he didn’t want her to go he said, “of course, you’re my fiance, I will support you and I am part of this.”
He went into the room with her to hold her hand. He didn’t really expect to see anything. She was only a few months along. They told him it was “just a blob of tissue.”
Later that day, he hysterically recounted to my mother how it felt seeing his tiny daughter being dismembered piece by piece and the expression on her tiny face. He asked her how a father could stand by and let that happen to his child. He asked her why he let it happen. He said he felt like a monster.
What my uncle never intended to happen, what he had witnessed that day, changed his life forever.
From that day on, he drowned his guilt in whatever intoxicating substances he could get. He didn’t feel worthy of life. His fiance also became an addict. They didn’t marry.
For the next forty-six years, his brothers and sisters were always looking for him on the streets, bringing him home to get “cleaned up.” He would shower, eat, and go back to the streets. He worked so hard at becoming sober many times and maintained sobriety for years, but he still never felt worthy of life. He hated himself and thought God did too.
He was a good, good man with a beautiful heart and conscience but his life was, in the fullest sense, a tragedy.
There is so much to learned about loving people without judging –Mother Teresa was great at teaching about this. She used to say, “If you judge people, you have no time to love them.” Pope Francis is doing a great job today teaching about this also. He exemplifies, each day how to be humble and loving – how to see with the eyes of Christ and love with the heart of Christ. One can never know the burdens a person is carrying around with them. If we did, I believe we would all be more gentle with their hearts. What we can know for certain, is that everyone is carrying something, everyone is wounded, because it’s human nature to be wounded.
Some people hear that I’m pro-life and judge me to be “anti-woman” and “judgmental” – this couldn’t be farther than the truth. When I know people in these situations, I accompany them in their pain and think of them with love and compassion because I know that, no matter what anyone claims, there is always pain and death involved when it comes to abortion.
I am PRO-life. That is, I am for life. I am for the life of the woman, who’s life ended that day. I am for the little girl, my cousin, who’s life ended that day. And, I am for the man, my uncle, who’s life ended that day.
But that’s not the end of the story.
At 10 am last Friday, my uncle was received into the Catholic Church and received absolution. When my mother asked if he would like to see a priest, he said, “he would actually come and see me?” Can you imagine what it must feel like to drop all of those burdens of guilt and self-hatred and know that you are loved? As he lay dying the next nine days, his face would fill with joy only one time a day – the time when the priest would come and visit him.
On this day, I pray that as my uncle enters his new life, he will finally fully experience God’s tender and loving embrace.
“The Embrace” by Chris Hopkins