Before her death from breast cancer the Catholic mother-of-seven devoted her life to life
Having mentioned Stalin in my last blog, a man whose life was blighted by hatred, it is time to turn to the opposite and focus on someone whose life was transformed by love. I have just been reading an inspiring book The Appalling Strangeness of the Mercy of God: the Story of Ruth Pakaluk, published by Ignatius, edited by her husband, Michael Pakaluk, and available from Gracewing for £12.99.
Ruth Pakaluk was born in 1957; a brilliant student, she met her future husband at Harvard. Rather like Jaques and Raissa Maritain in an earlier age, the Pakaluks made a deliberate decision to search for God and to see if Christianity was true. Their search led them finally into the Catholic Church and they had seven children. After the sixth baby, Sarah, was born Ruth discovered too late that she had breast cancer. Treatment followed and thinking she was in the clear, they had another baby, Sophie. But the cancer returned and Ruth died, aged 41, in 1998.
What was extraordinary was the amount that Ruth managed to pack into that abridged life, especially in pro-life activity. As a young student she had had no religious beliefs, saw herself as a feminist and believed in “a woman’s right to choose”. Becoming a Christian opened her eyes to truth at every level and the experience of having her first child taught her that fighting for the lives of unborn children was the most fundamental and urgent cause of all.
The core of her pro-life argument centred on the question of abortion and human rights: human rights pertain to us because we are human; the basic human right is the right to life and so, if that right is denied, then all human rights are denied. What is growing in the womb is alive and it is human; thus, to deny that it has the right to life is to deny that anyone has any rights whatsoever.
As well as raising her children and supporting her husband during his own academic career, Ruth threw all her formidable energy and intelligence into pro-life work in the Massachusetts area: she reformed the local pro-life organisation, got all the Christian churches involved, began a pro-life youth movement, trained other speakers and regularly gave talks in schools, on university campuses and on television. She simply showed, with her own commitment to life, what one person can do for the cause when they focus their energies.
She once admitted that she didn’t like leafleting, picketing or political activism – “but I don’t have the freedom to choose to remain silent.” On another occasion she stated, “I am obliged to do everything in my power to defend the rights of members of the human family who are being legally put to death.”
It is interesting to contrast Ruth’s life with Stalin’s: he brought death and destruction to millions of Russians; she is a shining example of how a life can be transformed by grace and the good works that will follow. I strongly recommend her life story.