This past Sunday was the beginning of the Respect Life Program, and the pastor at my local parish used the opportunity to explain what the Church teaches with respect to life issues and why. During the homily, I recalled the moment when I realized that Church teaching on these issues made the most sense.

Twelve years ago I started dating Amy (she’s my wife now). She was Catholic and I was not, and she must have seen potential in me even though we did not agree on some issues. I had been a convinced atheist for many years, but by the time we started dating, my position on the existence of God had lightened up. I rarely bothered her about that, and I did my best to respect her religious beliefs, but I did have serious questions about moral issues.

We had many discussions about abortion. Amy was always very patient when we discussed it, and she always had reasonable answers to my objections. Despite that, I remained unconvinced.

One evening I was watching the movie Unforgiven starring Clint Eastwood. There is a scene in the film where the two anti-heroes sneak up on a ranch and shoot a man who had a bounty on his head. Later in the film, the character who pulled the trigger expressed remorse for what he had done. Eastwood’s character replies:

It’s a helluva thing, killin’ a man. Take away all he’s got, and all he’s ever gonna have.

That’s when it dawned on me that Amy could be right.

I was a consequentialist (although I was unaware at the time that there was a name for it) in the sense that I believed any act could be deemed good or bad depending on its outcome. From my perspective, murder was wrong because it harmed an innocent human being by ending his life prematurely.

I was also on the fence about my belief in the afterlife, and so the thought that abortion amounts to “taking away all he’s ever going to have” disturbed me.

This idea on its own did not make an airtight case, but it didn’t need to. What it did was open my mind enough to start taking Amy’s other reasons seriously.

By the time Amy and I married, my position on abortion had relaxed, and I was well on my way to becoming pro-life. But the belief that pro-lifers cared only about the pre-born and did little to assist them after birth lingered on in my mind.

Amy was a single mother, and I had agreed to her insistence that her daughter be raised Catholic. In order to eliminate any confusion, I reluctantly attended Mass with them on most Sundays.

What I began to notice was that this small Catholic parish in the mountains had a vibrant pro-life ministry. Not only did they provide food and clothing to pregnant women in bad situations, they also helped them find the services they needed, including housing and counseling. Many of the people in the parish were directly involved at some level, and those who were not donated money to keep the programs funded.

I would often look to my wife and stepdaughter sitting with me in the pew and the example they set. Amy was young and unmarried when she got pregnant. She chose life and, with support from her family and parish, went on to make a very good home for her daughter long before I ever showed up.

In fact, there was not a single person I got to know at this parish who did not display a genuine concern for the well-being of children of all ages, and slowly my skepticism in this area began to disappear.

Over the past ten years, some Catholics have tried to tell me that apologetics is not necessary. Instead, we all need to practice what we preach and let the Holy Spirit do the rest. I don’t completely agree with this. In my experience, both are necessary. Good arguments can knock down the walls that people like me put up between God and us. Practicing what you preach seals the deal.