It's that more people should change the way they live.
As director of the Center for Life Principles, a pro-life organization dedicated to re-establishing recognition of human dignity, she has trained hundreds of speakers for the pro-life movement. She is also the founder of the Modestly Yours program and Being With, a campaign to encourage out-reach to the elderly and ill.
She recently spoke with Register features correspondent Tim Drake about the Life Principles approach.
How old were you when your family moved West?
I was born in New Jersey, but when I was 4 we moved to the desert of New Mexico. Our move was quite a shock to the rest of the family because they thought we were going to get eaten up by scorpions. I am the third of six children. I have four sisters and a brother. My father is a professional landscape photographer and my mother took care of the children. She now works at a university.
Did you grow up Catholic?
Yes, I come from a very strong Catholic family. My faith flourished, in large part due to my parents. My dad took it upon himself to teach us the Catechism. He set a good example for us, taking the time to hold classes with all six of us. That left a huge impression on us. He would give us homework and mark it up with a red pen. Mine was always the most marked-up. I struggled with it the most because theology didn't come easy for me. I had too many questions.
Our mother always being present in our lives also helped me to see God in a very real way. She didn't seek a career, she sought God first and family second.
How did you first get involved in pro-life work?
My first involvement in the pro-life movement was not a positive experience.
In high school our neighbors across the street were Protestant and picketed the abortion clinic. Sometimes I would go with them. I remember standing in front of the clinic with a real sense of self-righteousness. I was just too young to understand.
In high school and college my attitude was trying to require that everyone stop being pro-abortion rather than trying to move people toward a sense of true dignity about the human person. In college, we would dress up like the grim reaper and carry around graphic images presenting abortion.
Our activities tended to be radical, but they weren't motivated by Christ. They were motivated by “look what I am doing.”
How did you end up with Life Principles?
After college I wanted to go into politics. I felt that if we could just change a law we could be successful. I worked as a lobbyist with the Washington State Right to Life office, testifying in the Legislature and gathering witnesses for hearings.
While it was fun, it was neither successful nor useful. Every year we were defeated. People, in general, are not living with a higher sense of meaning in their life. If they do not have a higher sense of meaning in their own life, then they will not have a higher sense of meaning for the life of the unborn.
Father Robert Spitzer asked me to run a new education effort that he was starting and my job evolved from a political job to creating educational resources that are used around the world.
Summarize the Life Principles approach.
The Life Principles approach is a huge paradigm shift for the pro-life movement.
It moves from pro-life activism to pro-life evangelization. We're not just trying to change the way a person votes; we're trying to change the way a person lives.
Life Principles is based upon the principle that every human being desires happiness or fulfillment. The problem is that because we are self-conscious, we can choose what we want to believe that ultimate happiness is. In our culture, we are guided to choose types of happiness that are really beneath us.
There are basically four different ways that people can experience happiness: physical pleasure, ego gratification, contribution and communion with God. What we do is help show people that our culture is selling us a life that is beneath our dignity. Our culture focuses on the first two levels and stops there. It says, “Get those and you'll be satisfied.” Yet people are miserable and don't know why.
How does that inform the work that you do?
We believe abortion, euthanasia, capital punishment, addictions, violence and most human problems are the result of living beneath ourselves. They are the result of living at the first two levels. If we can show people that true meaning is at levels three and four, then we can change the culture.
Life Principles tackles the abortion argument in a much different fashion than most pro-life organizations.
Abortion undermines not only happiness and rights, but also a healthy understanding of freedom, quality of life and the common good. Choice without justice will turn a society into a tyranny. The crux of the issue is suffering. We do not understand suffering because we do not know what we are destined for. We have no idea who God is.
This also manifests itself in your Being With program. Tell me about that.
Being With encourages people to go into hospitals, prisons, nursing homes or wherever people are suffering and simply be with them. A “being-with” kind of love is more profound than a “doing-for” kind of love.
At some point, with most terminal illnesses, you reach a point where you can no longer help. That's when our culture says, “Quick, end the despair. Kill them in a gentle way and move on.” Being With says that is a robbery. It moves into compassion, looking into the eyes of the other and seeing the eternity of God. The transformations that we are seeing are amazing.
Do you have an example?
Yes. There was one man I visited, Mr. Watson. He had had knee surgery and then an embolism, which caused a heart attack. He was supposed to die in two weeks. The day I visited Mr. Watson, I had been getting kicked out of patients’ rooms all day. I fell back into levels one and two, concentrating on my bruised ego. When I sat down with Mr. Watson he talked for 45 minutes. When he was done, I was very bored, hot and hungry and wanted to go home.
When I got up to go, he shot out his arm and said, “Please, don't go. I need someone to be with me.” I realized that I hadn't been with him. I was being with me. After that we engaged in conversation. He felt free to cry and we talked of God. I was able to share my faith with him. When I got up to go, I kissed him on the head and said, “I think you got what you needed.” He replied, “No, I think you got what you needed.”
Our culture says that if someone is sick, get rid of him. Yet I would have lost the opportunity to connect with Mr. Watson, and the end of the story is that he lived. I see him every couple of months and he continues to ask about my faith.
How has your work influenced your faith?
My own personal relationship with God has moved from an intellectual understanding of who God is to an affective understanding. My view of God now, compared to when I was younger, is that God is my eternal beloved and he loves every human being as if you were the only person he was in love with. The thought of infiniteness loving little, finite, fallible, bumbling me is enough to make me follow him anywhere.