By John Rieping | All rights reserved | Previously published 2/24/12 in The Madera Tribune
A joke tells of a notorious anti-Catholic who reluctantly agreed to go to a Mardi Gras carnival with a friend. Walking about the fundraiser, the pair passed a musician who played his guitar while his pet monkey collected coins. Without hesitation, the anti-Catholic placed a generous handful of coins into the monkey’s hat. His perplexed friend complained, “I thought you didn’t like Catholics.”
“I don’t,” he replied, “but they’re so cute when they’re little.”
That we are — with or without tails. But all “little ones” can be challenging too, even if innocently.
A catechism teacher supposedly decided to test her class to see if they understood her lesson that we can’t earn entry into paradise. “If I had a big garage sale,” she asked, “sold my house and car, and gave all my money to the church, would that get me into heaven?”
“No!” the children answered.
“If I loved my family, never disobeyed my parents, and always cleaned my room, would that get me into heaven?” she said.
Again, they cried, “No!”
After several similar questions, the proud teacher happily continued, “Well then, how can I get into heaven?”
A boy shouted out: “You gotta be dead first!”
Children do astonish us.
My own conception in the summer of 1973 surprised my parents. My mother had been informed by a doctor that she would be unable to have another child after the birth of my sister Maria in 1969. Yet my then 38-year-old mother conceived me.
“We thought we were through with blessings,” my mom told me when we discussed our family history April 25, 2010.
“I thought in a way the timing was wrong,” my dad admitted.
At the time, a disappointing investment had forced my parents and their four children to move back in with my grandparents.
“I must have been depressed so her father came,” my dad said. “He said, ‘What’s the matter, Joe?’… I said, ‘You know I made a mistake with the property… and now I find out that your daughter — my wife — is pregnant…’
“He says, ‘… When the Lord gives you a baby the Lord gives you a loaf of bread to feed it.’ … That snapped me to [and] you were very welcome.”
I was born in early March at Madera Community Hospital and would be baptized nine days later at St. Joachim Church.
I might not be alive today if I had different parents facing the same circumstances. On Jan. 22, 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that the “right of privacy” was “broad enough to encompass” a right to abortion, which until then was outlawed or restricted in the 50 states.
I’m not the only survivor. The mother of Tim Tebow, quarterback for the Denver Broncos football team, had been told by her doctor that at age 37 the pregnancy posed a high risk to her life and that the “mass of fetal tissue,” a “tumor,” had to go. Pam and Bob Tebow refused.
But these stories are nothing compared to those of Gianna Jessen, Melissa Ohden, Claire Culwell, Ana Rosa Rodriguez, and others who literally survived abortions. A search on YouTube or elsewhere will reveal their tales.
Gianna Jessen’s story may be known best after having been reported by the Telegraph, the BBC, and other media. The 34-year-old was born in Los Angeles prematurely after a failed abortion.
“I survived so I could stir things up a bit, and I have a great time doing it…,” she said in a speech at the Victoria, Australia, Parliament House in 2008. “I was delivered alive… after 18 hours” in a saline solution. “I should be blind, I should be burned, I should be dead, and yet I’m not.”
Oxygen deprivation from the procedure left her with physical atrophy and cerebral palsy. Her adoptive mother was told she would never be able to walk or even sit up. Yet Gianna has run marathons and is a talented singer-songwriter in Nashville.
Mother Teresa said, “God is using Gianna to remind the world that each human being is precious to him.”
A few weeks ago I had a chance to see a movie, “October Baby,” inspired by Gianna’s past. My ticket to the advance screening was courtesy of the Catholic Diocese of Fresno, but members of Christian churches around the San Joaquin Valley packed the theater. I laughed and cried during the gentle uplifting film.
“October Baby” will publicly debut in Fresno on March 22.