Life, Love and a Shining Example
Doctors see it all. Dr. Anne Nolte is one of the founders of the National Gianna Center for Women’s Health and Fertility. At the Gianna Center’s annual fundraising dinner, she celebrated mothers and fathers who had love, sought love, and gave love. She celebrated a couple who have opened their home to foster children, and will soon adopt. She celebrated a couple with nine flourishing children.
And she celebrated another kind of mother — Mother Agnes Mary Donovan of the Sisters of Life, a religious community of women who care for women who are pregnant and need support, housing them and becoming an integral part of their lives to help families succeed. They are women of joy who help make so much possible. Because they give their lives to the service of God, they have hearts totally open to giving, and room to receive people completely, in all their imperfections. In this way, they serve as an example that we should pay attention to, especially in this current political moment.
What is Love?
One of the fundamental questions Mother Agnes often likes to address when asked to speak is: “What is love?” It’s one of those questions everyone figures they know the answer to. After all, we love, don’t we? And it’s everywhere in songs and culture both high and low. But it’s not a given and it should not to be taken for granted.
Mother Agnes talks about the importance of not first “doing more,” but “allowing oneself to first be moved in delight by the good of the other, and then outwardly manifesting that delight … Are we open to receive another person, allowing our hearts to be moved by some goodness we see and notice in them — such as beauty, strength, vulnerability, generosity? And then do we mirror that back to them, before acting, giving advice or stepping in to help, so that they experience being confirmed in their own goodness?
“The emphasis is so important,” she says, “otherwise the other person may feel as if I love them only because I am good” or because you “have to,” because you are a parent or a nun or a doctor who has been paid to tend to them, “and not because of any goodness I see within them that is moving me.”
She says, “It is the goodness of the other which is the cause of my delight. This true affirmation of another is not always easy. It takes faith, courage and fortitude. Sometimes I have to work to let go of myself in order to be open to receive the other and allow my heart to be moved in delight.
“Sometimes,” she adds, “I see the beauty, but it takes the other person a very long time to see what I’ve seen in them. It takes commitment to consistently look beyond repeated mistakes and to love another with constancy, perseverance, courage and delight. But it’s worth it.”
That’s love: seeing beyond mistakes, differences, weaknesses and all of the other messes humans tend to bring to the table. The Sisters of Life are who they are, and they are not compromising on that — their position on abortion is clear, for instance. But it’s how they live — how they love — that works miracles. It’s a life dedicated to a God who is love, and who makes all things possible. Love like that changes things. Love like that moves us out of a culture of anxiety. Love like that is more powerful and enduring than political campaigns and judicial precedents.
The Gianna Center is named after an Italian pediatrician who in 1961 was determined not to end the life of her unborn child when a tumor developed in her. Gianna died shortly after childbirth, and her daughter travels the world giving thanks for the radical love and sacrifice of her mother. We don’t all have to be giving up our lives, but we can afford to become more receptive to other people and show that we see them as unique and worthy of appreciation and reverence. It can make love more plausible in a time of widespread temptations to despair.
Kathryn Jean Lopez is senior fellow at the National Review Institute, editor-at-large of National Review Online and founding director of Catholic Voices USA. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.