Opinion: A humble-but-true story that illuminates the government vs. church debate

The Little Sisters of the Poor prevailed against the ObamaCare mandate before the Supreme Court, in a limited but clear win for religious liberty.

The nuns who care for the indigent elderly had sought the protection of the court from ruinous fines. They could not allow, in good conscience, the insurance plans they offer their employees to include free contraceptives, including abortifacients, as is required under ObamaCare.

The Supreme Court directed the lower courts to find a way to achieve the government’s goal of universal contraception without violating the nuns’ principles.

Many Americans have received this news with a shrug. What does it matter if religion flourishes or if it dies of a thousand cuts administered by hostile administrations, secularist organizations like the ACLU and unsympathetic judges?

I think it matters very much to people like my fellow parishioner, Lupita.

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Lupita lost her son. He was all she had in the world. Andrés was a sweet young man, only 18, who had a hard life. He was born with a severe facial cleft that affected his palate and nose. Several surgeries alleviated the problem, but his face, which would have been handsome, remained deformed.

His father died when he was young, and his mother raised him, cooking and cleaning for other women. I often saw Andrés with her – he always wore a gentle smile and cast his eyes down, too shy with his poor face to talk to me.

This good boy got into college with a scholarship and went off to Colorado, leaving his mother desolate, she thought. Now she knows what desolation really is: It’s having your baby, whom you cared for with the aching tenderness that only the mother of a sick child can know, killed.

Her heart cries out to heaven with a grief so profound that it can barely be imagined. Whom does a woman in her position, her utter abandonment and poverty, turn to?

Who will cry with her and keep her company in the long nights? Who will buy the boy a burial plot so that his broken but beloved body will not be, as she calls it, incinerated? Who will call the coroner in that blasted language, English, and ask him if Andrés suffered very much? Who will arrange the funeral, and make all things smooth for her? Who will console her?

The Church will do all this for Lupita, and more.

Father Juan Carlos rushed to her side when the awful news came in, finding her prostrate, almost insensible in her agony. Before an hour was out, he had marshaled his willing troops. The deacon whose wife is a social worker and knows about hard things like autopsies and coroners; the doctor who could give her a sedative; the Catholic owner of the local funeral home who of course was good for a cost-free wake and procession; the leader of the Buen Pastor Ministry that cares for the poor of our parish to start a collection for the burial plot; the tag teams of women who make sure she is never left alone.

Naturally Lupita needs more than material help.

She dragged herself to church and the word got around that she had come. Before mass, we surrounded her as she sat, moaning softly on a bench in the courtyard. We patted her, crying unreservedly, suffering with our sister.

The noon mass was offered for Andrés, and Lupita brought up the communion host. The Father hugged her tenderly, whispering words of consolation in her ear. In his homily he reminded us that God himself suffered as Andrés suffered, His mother as Lupita suffered. That He joined us in the depths of our woes so that His triumph at the Resurrection would be our triumph also. That she would be reunited with her boy, and their suffering would be as nothing to the joy that awaits them.

Lupita looked at the priest hungrily as he spoke, aching to believe that she will hold her boy again.

I don’t know if this humble-but-true story can change the mind of a reader who doesn’t believe, as Lupita does, in a caring creator. But those who are indifferent to whether the Church is allowed to do its mission, or worse, those who are actively conspiring to shut it down, must consider Lupita. As well as the legions of the distressed, sick, abandoned, orphaned, trafficked, lonely, elderly, needy that the Church rescues and consoles each and every day.

Those who fight against the Church and other religious organizations must not understand the good that these institutions do. Maybe they believe that federal and state agencies and government programs in our big, rich country are more than equipped to come to the aid of the poor and broken.

But the government, no matter how powerful and far-reaching, cannot do what the Church does so tenderly.

There is no heart in the government, no love. And what Lupita needs is love.