Now that Norma McCorvey has passed away, I hope there is renewed interest in her autobiography, Won by Love. I picked it up about a dozen years ago and it changed my life.

I realize that “changed my life” is a phrase that has lost nearly all of its dramatic impact like “change the world” or even “I love you” but that doesn’t make it any less true.

You see, I grew up a faithful, if sinful Catholic, who never entertained doubts about the truth of Catholicism but always sought ways to prove it. I had very few meaningful conversations with non-Catholics and most of those I ruined with my ignorance, impatience, or personal pride.

Yet, I wanted to draw others to the Faith - not to add numbers to our rolls as some people on the outside imagine. Catholics don’t do altar calls. I wish our conversions were that efficient but they are notoriously slow and they are always one soul at a time. They usually come through some association with another Catholic – which is where it gets dicey. Rare is the St. Paul or the Alphonse Ratisbonne who gets a direct apparition from somebody who is not a baptized jerk. Anyway, my interest in making converts had nothing to do with the Church at large. It was personal. I had lapsed Catholics in my family. I loved them. I didn’t want them to go to hell. And family reunions were tense.

In answer to this good desire, Norma’s book came to me somehow. I forget the circumstances. Quick background in case you missed all of the Catholic coverage of her death these last few days. Won by Love is her second book. The first, I Am Roe, she wrote during her pro-abortion years. The second book is the same story with a changed perspective and a happy ending. The catalyst for change was the friendship of some evangelicals had moved their pro-life clinic next door to her abortion facility. They hoped to persuade mothers to choose life. They got Norma. She treated them like dirt. She cussed them out. She spit it their faces. Yet they responded with love. They wiped the spit from their faces and  blessed her in return.

This confused the heck out of her. She had been used and abused all her life. As the famous Jane Roe, she was the poster child for abortion. Poor, single, uneducated. But just in case that wasn’t enough, she and her lawyers invented a claim of rape. Here’s the thing though. Norma was at heart an honest soul which made her a terrible liar. Even when they trotted her out and put her on the platform with movie stars who had used abortion to clear an obstacle to their success, Norma wasn’t star struck. She was the same crass wrong side of the tracks truth sayer. She couldn’t behave. She knew she had lied and said so. She knew they were lying and said so. She knew it was about killing a child and said so. All this while still one of them. They didn’t like it. Most distanced themselves from her. Celebrities were the new face of the abortion movement. Her kind was an embarrasment. She had outlived her use.

These evangelicals were different. They were the first people who ever treated her decently. But I don’t want to say “decently” because heck, I would have treated her decently too. Any shallow Christian can manage decent — which I guess is better than not. But decent can be aloof. They were far from aloof. They even let her babysit their kids. She fell for those kids. When there was no one to cast a stone at her and she no longer had to put up her dukes and prove herself right, Norma’s hard heart broke and God replaced it with His own.

Won by Love is a memoir. It is not a “how to book on making converts.” But it opened a world for me that I had no access to as a cradle Catholic. It gave me sympathy for those in darkness and a longing to be the type of Christian who does more than stay out of trouble — which is all I ever did before — but who seeks to serve even at the risk of getting in trouble.

I didn’t go out and baptize; I didn’t sign up for a mission; I didn’t even visit my neighbors with the good news. I started by praying for my lapsed loved ones. I got my kids to pray, just as these evangelicals had theirs pray for Norma. And I tried to get out of the way and not make this about me and winning anything or anyone. Which was hard because there was a whole lot of me to overcome  and still is.

The same year that Won by Love came out, Norma entered the Catholic Church. I have always wondered how her evangelical friends took it because there is no doubt that they helped her get there. That is where she remained for twenty years, at peace at last, until the end of her days last weekend.

God gave us a Church, a community so that we could meet Him through each other, so that we could receive His mercy at the hands of fellow sinners, so that we could accompany each other, as Pope Francis continually reminds us. Norma’s book showed me what that looks like. It is what happened to her, it is what happened to my lapsed loved ones, and through them, it is what happened to me.