The 70th National Prayer Breakfast, scheduled for Thursday inside the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center Auditorium, will look different this year. Unlike in the past, only members of Congress and their spouses, along with President and Mrs. Biden and the Vice President and Second Gentleman will attend.
But it will be precisely twenty-eight years to the day since then 83-year-old Mother Teresa, all 4’10” and 101 pounds of her, stood before the President of the United States at the annual event and spoke truth to power and specifically addressed the evils of abortion.
As the nation anticipates the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Mississippi 15-week heartbeat case, the Macedonian-born Catholic nun’s words take on renewed meaning and significance.
Barely visible behind the lectern that cold February morning, her diminutive figure emerging just above the double microphones, Mother Teresa delivered what many consider the boldest and most consequential speech in the history of the breakfast.
“It is really a war against the child, a direct killing of the innocent child, murder by the mother herself,” she said quietly. “And if we accept that a mother can kill even her own child, how can we tell other people not to kill one another? How do we persuade a woman not to have an abortion? As always, we must persuade her with love, and we remind ourselves that love means to be willing to give until it hurts.”
But Mother Teresa didn’t let men off the hook either:
“By abortion, the father is told that he does not have to take any responsibility at all for the child he has brought into the world,” she said. “So that father is likely to put other women into the same trouble. So, abortion just leads to more abortion. Any country that accepts abortion is not teaching its people to love one another, but to use any violence to get what they want. This is why the greatest destroyer of love and peace is abortion.”
Fast-forward to the riots and violence of the last few years, and we can recognize just how prophetic and prescient Mother Teresa’s words have turned out to be. When you normalize a culture of death, you soften the sting of abortion and other reckless violence towards the innocent. Once upon a time it was magnified murder – but now in some people’s minds – it’s somehow justified.
At December’s Supreme Court hearing on the Mississippi case, Justice Amy Coney Barrett, a mother of seven (two of whom were adopted), suggested adoption renders the so-called “burden” of parenting “obsolete.”
Twenty-eight years ago, Mother Teresa basically said the same thing:
“The beautiful gift God has given our congregation is to fight abortion by adoption,” she pleaded. “We have sent word to the clinics, to the hospitals and police stations: ‘Please don’t destroy the child. We will take the child.’ Jesus said, ‘Anyone who receives a child in my name, receives me.’ By adopting a child, these couples receive Jesus but, by aborting a child, a couple refuses to receive Jesus.”
And there inside the Washington Hotel, with President and Mrs. Clinton looking on, she added:
“Please don’t kill the child. I want the child. Please give me the child. I am willing to accept any child who would be aborted and to give that child to [a] married couple who will love the child and be loved by the child.”
Mother Teresa’s words are echoed by pro-lifer stalwarts all across the world.
Anybody who saw that speech will never forget it. Peggy Noonan, the Wall Street Journal columnist and former Reagan and Bush speechwriter, was there and would later write about the awkward quiet that followed Mother Teresa’s strongest remarks:
“Cool deep silence in the cool round cavern for just about 1.3 seconds. And then applause started on the righthand side of the room, and spread, and deepened, and now the room was swept with people applauding, and they would not stop for what I believe was five or six minutes. As they clapped, they began to stand, in another wave from the right of the room to the center and the left.”
It’s our prayer and hope there will be applause for life across America by summer, as a half-century wrong is finally righted. But on this day, we remember the story of a small woman who did a brave thing at a Washington D.C. breakfast – showing us that if she can say it, we can say and do the courageous things, too.
Photo from Aleteia.