With the March for Life upon us, as well as other pro-life events, how can families instill in their children respect for the unborn and all people?
"The two biggest ways are prayer and witness," says Mary Ann Kuharski, founding member and director of Prolife Across America (ProlifeAcrossAmerica.org). She is also a mother of 13 children, as well as a grandmother, author and speaker on life and family issues. She has made appearances on EWTN.
Kuharski emphasizes an essential condition: "Our children should know what we are praying for."
She relates the story of a young woman who changed her mind about having an abortion because she remembered what her grandmother told her. "She told me her grandmother told her she said the Rosary every day because abortion was such a scourge on America. When the girl was going to have a baby, she thought of abortion, but then remembered what her grandmother had told her. The girl chose adoption instead."
Families should let children and grandchildren know "that we grieve for America because it allows the legal destruction of innocent human life," Kuharski points out
At St. Mary Church in Escondido, Calif., parish families support the local Culture of Life Family Services with prayer and resources.
The culture of life consists in praying for people in other situations too, Father Richard Perozich, pastor of St. Mary’s, reminds his flock.
"We encourage everyone to keep a list to pray for every family member," as well as friends and church members, says Father Perozich. "Pray for these people every day, praying for their welfare."
Kuharski also emphasizes families’ everyday witness.
"Witness means to let others know what we pray for. We don’t have to lecture. If we are people of faith, they know we are supporting life and marriage and fidelity. That’s the most powerful pro-life thing we can do. We as a family love our Church and believe in what our Church stands for."
And pray for our Holy Father and priests, that they have the grace and strength to lead us, she adds.
Most of all, Kuharski advises, "Love, with all capitols: Love your babies; love your spouse; love your neighbor. Let others see how much you love your children. There is nothing that speaks volumes more than loving your children. Let them see your witness. If we want our children to be Catholic, we need to love the Church. If we want our children to be pro-life, they need to know what we pray for and why. And that stems from the Church — because there we learn the love the Church has for all human life."
Laura Sirilla knows this truth firsthand. Growing up as one of 10 children in her family, "my mom insisted we always sit in the front row" at Mass, she well remembers. "Mom paraded us up the center aisle. You couldn’t deny that we were there."
Sirilla knows that going to Mass as a family is important. She and her husband, Michael, a theology professor at Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio, have six children, ranging in age from 1 to 13.
"Just being there as a family and participating as a family is a physical witness as to what family life can be," Sirilla explains, "and to what the fruitfulness of marriage can be."
Sarah and Andrew Swafford share one precious church moment.
Andrew is assistant professor of theology at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kan., and Sarah is a Catholic speaker and founder of EmotionalVirtue.com. The Swaffords have two sons, ages 6 and 7, and a daughter, age 2.
They were attending a wedding when the boys were 4 and 3 and were sitting close to the altar, because Andrew and Sarah were lectors for the readings.
"We were excited for them to see a wedding Mass and the vows," recounts Andrew. "After the vows, we whispered to the boys, ‘Look, they’re married!’ The boys looked at us and said with surprise and complete innocence: ‘What do you mean they’re married? Where are their kids?!’" The boys "blurted their surprised response aloud" — to the amusement of all those nearby.
There was a powerful lesson on life in that moment, Andrew says: "Build and reinforce the natural connection in children’s minds between marriage and children. This doesn’t have to be forced or over the top, since it’s quite natural and obviously the natural course of things."
"The more our kids can see the moral meaning of the natural order, the more they will be later disposed to see biological complementarity as morally and spiritually significant," he adds.
Such a situation also harkens back to being a witness in daily life.
"Just being out with your family is a witness," Sirilla says.
Whether out shopping or having dinner in a restaurant, people ask about her six children, with remarks ranging from positive to negative, as well as just inquisitive.
Whatever the case, Sirilla suggests, "Just be ready to say something positive and life-affirming and not be offended." She usually responds that there is "a lot of sacrifice, but the joy and the payoff is worth it. I’m so happy."
Blessed by Babies
The Swaffords share more ways families can easily witness to life.
When mom is pregnant, "let the older kids feel the baby in the womb kick," says Andrew. "Show them the ultrasound pictures. This is a powerful witness and a joyous experience."
Sarah affirms: "We get really excited when we find out people are pregnant, and we get really excited when we have other little kids over. It shows life is so exciting; babies are so exciting."
The Swaffords also encourage making children feel blessed.
"This will instill in children that they are one of God’s greatest blessings," they agree. "Children must be made to feel that the more kids the better — that they are not a ‘burden’ to a blissful marriage or anything of the like."
If they feel like they are gifts and blessings now, the Swaffords suspect they will be more likely to continue this attitude into their adult lives, seeing children as a wondrous gift and fruit of the nuptial union.
Adopting these wise guidelines for family life will continue to build up a civilization of love and the culture of life in society.
Overall, remember that love is spelled "t-i-m-e," notes Kuharski. "The most pro-life thing is to love my baby and nurture my little one in faith and love. That’s what the Blessed Mother did."
Joseph Pronechen is a
Register staff writer.