I Invite You to Meet A Warrior for Life | Peter Kreeft | The Introduction to "The Appalling Strangeness of the Mercy of God: The Story of Ruth Pakaluk" | Ignatius InsightI Invite You to Meet A Warrior for Life | Peter Kreeft | The Introduction to The Appalling Strangeness of the Mercy of God: The Story of Ruth Pakaluk: Convert, Mother, Pro-life Activist, edited by Michael Pakaluk


In this book you will meet a truly wonderful person. There are few things in life more precious than that. Even meeting a great fictional character enriches your life. But this one is real.

Since Ruth was a woman who loved God and loved life, this book of her letters and speeches is a book for everyone who loves God and who loves life. But it is especially helpful for mothers, especially stay-at-home mothers, homemakers, people with cancer, parents faced with leaving their children through death, and people who care about abortion.

How to describe it in a few words? All the following adjectives describe Ruth herself as well as her letters and her book.

Utterly honest, human, "homely", and humble. Simple. Direct. Full of the ordinary, but full of a light that shines on or through ordinary life, a light that most of us simply don't see twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.

And always cheerful. Surrounded by many small children; infected by cancer; suffering in continual pain for seven years; facing uncertainties about death and then certainties (which is worse?); maligned and misunderstood for converting to Catholicism, for having "too many" children, for being consistently pro-life; working harder for the culture of life while in poor health than most people ever work when in perfect health—yet always cheerful. Like Mother Teresa. Like John Paul II.

They show us that cheerfulness is neither a temporary feeling nor a genetic predisposition but a choice. A matter of free choice-of will, not emotion. This cheerfulness is not a teeth-gritting, "stiff upper lip" cheerfulness but one grounded in truth and in fact, in the certainty of the goodness and wisdom and power of God. (From these three nonnegotiable premises logically follows the astonishing conclusion of Romans 8:28, [1] and the cheerfulness it generates.)

Full of faith, in all its senses: personal trust, personal fidelity, theological orthodoxy, and immediate acceptance of revealed data. Ruth had a brilliant mind, but I'm sure she would have loved the Southern Baptist preacher's famous definition of faith: "If God said it, I believe it and that settles it." Honesty often expresses itself in simplicity, even (especially!) in brilliant minds. (Read Saint Thomas Aquinas.) This simplicity was one of the secrets of her cheerfulness.

Full of hope, especially when things are most hopeless. (That's the whole hard heroism and preciousness of hope.)

Full of charity, of love. The real thing, not imitations. Full of the love of God, which is so immediately translated into love of neighbor that its heavenly origin becomes invisible, like air full of light. Yet also hardheaded, rational, clear. (Why did I say "yet", as if there were some tension? Exactly the opposite: it is all of a piece.) Brilliant, even-in the sense that a light is brilliant, not in the sense that an overly clever scholar is "brilliant". What was her secret? It's no secret. It's all here in print. Just meet her and see.

The reader must be warned not to bog down in the simple, homey, hobbitlike details of the first few letters. The letters start slow. It's right that they do. They are like the first fifty pages of The Lord of the Rings. Acceleration takes place, in due time, right up to the stunning conclusion, on p. 209.

I met Ruth five or six times, mainly at Boston College, where she gave the most persuasive, irresistible, and winsome pro-life talks I have ever heard. To explain my impression of her, I have to tell you a story that may sound strange, but it is right on target, on her wavelength.

A student asked a famous Zen Buddhist roshi (master) to teach him the secret of Zen. He agreed and promised the student that if he obeyed everything the master told him to do, he would attain satori ("Enlightenment"). The student came to live with the master in his monastery. Every day, the only command the master gave to the student was "Wash your dishes!" and the student dutifully obeyed. After a month, the student, impatient, asked the master when he would begin teaching him the secret of Zen. The master replied, "I have been teaching you every day, but you have not learned." "But master, all you have told me to do is to wash my dishes." "That is true, and if you had obeyed me, you would now be enlightened." "But I did obey you, master. I washed my dishes every day." "No, you did not. You never washed your dishes. You have never washed your dishes in your life." "But master, what did I do, then?" "You wobbled."

Ruth did not "wobble". She was totally "there" for everyone she talked to. When she spoke to an audience of one hundred, everyone of them felt as if there were only two people in the room, not one hundred—because that's how she felt.

My first reaction, upon reading that people in Worcester had wished to consider opening her cause for sainthood, was surprise. Not because there was anything in Ruth that would contradict such a verdict, but because my concept of a saint, like that of most Catholics, I suppose, was a cartoon concept, full of strange and unusual accidentals like incredible penances, violent martyrdoms, and supernatural revelations.

But the greatest of saints was the humblest, simplest, quietest, and most ordinary mother in Israel, although the Mother of God himself. And especially today, in the age of the laity and of the humanism of John Paul the Great and Vatican II, we need examples of "ordinary" saints—because all are called to be saints, and most of us are "ordinary".

I conclude with a "tease", a passage from the book that is typical of Ruth's mind and spirit. I have read and debated much about abortion but I have never seen a clearer and stronger pro-life argument than Ruth's. In Michael's words, "the core of Ruth's argument about abortIon and human rights may be summarized in this way: Human rights are rights that pertain to us simply in virtue of the fact that we are human, not for any reason above and beyond that; the fundamental human right is the right to life, and so, if that right is denied, then all human rights are in effect denied; the thing growing in the mother's womb is surely alive (otherwise it would not need to be killed by an abortion), and it is human; thus, to deny that the thing growing in the mother's womb has the right to life is to deny that anyone has any human rights whatsoever."

Michael goes on to say that this led Ruth "to reconceive the abortion controversy not as a difference of opinion as regards some philosophical thesis—'Is the fetus a person?', as people often say—but rather as a difference in two cultures: given that (as everyone really knows) the thing in the woman's womb is a living human, do we act on the principle that all human beings are fundamentally equal, or do we proceed as if we believe that it is permissible to kill some human beings to solve our problems? The first is the Culture of Life, the second the Culture of Death. The two cultures, she thought, were vying for the allegiance of the young people she was addressing."

I invite you to meet a warrior for life whose pen is truly mightier than death's sword.


[1] "We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose" (RSV, Second Catholic Edition).

The Appalling Strangeness of the Mercy of God: The Story of Ruth Pakaluk, Convert, Mother and Pro-Life Activist

by Ruth V.K. Pakaluk; edited by Michael Pakaluk

Also available in Electronic Book (e-book) format

This book is the powerful story of an amazing woman, Ruth Pakaluk, who converted to Catholicism at Harvard, married her college sweetheart and joyfully welcomed seven children. She became a renowned pro-life leader and brilliant debater, who was struck with breast cancer and died at the young age of forty-one.

Ruth's inspiring story is told primarily through her humorous, sparkling and insightful letters in which her realistic cheerfulness shines. A biographical overview by her husband fills in important details about her life, and a collection of her talks on abortion, faith and being a Catholic wife and mother conclude the volume.

Ruth Pakaluk exemplified the powerful integrity of someone who lived what she believed. She was steadfastly committed to Christ and to the culture of life, and this commitment was manifested in her consistent affirmation of life in her family, in society and even in the face of her own death. Peter Kreeft, well known Professor of Philosophy and author, described Ruth as the best, most effective and inspiring pro-life speaker he had ever heard. She was such a compelling, articulate pro-life debater that eventually Planned Parenthood spokeswomen refused to spar with her in public.

All Ruth's virtues revealed in this book - her love as a devoted wife and mother, her zeal for the truth, and her faith & hope while battling a terminal illness - offer inspiration and encouragement to anyone striving to put Christian faith into action.

"I have never read a more beautiful and touching book - a book about a joyous life and overpowering death, and grief and joy. Michael and Ruth Pakaluk's account of love and grief towers head and shoulders above the justly acclaimed accounts of C.S. Lewis in A Grief Observed and Sheldon van Auken in A Severe Mercy. Throughout, I felt in my heart that Ruth is a marvelous saint for our times." - Michael Novak, Philosopher, Author, and Diplomat

"People frequently commented on Ruth's selfless character, boundless optimism, and fervent faith. Her zest for life and zeal for faith were gifts from God - gifts offered to us all. I pray that these pages will inspire you to be ever more open to God's grace and mercy." - Most Reverend Daniel Reilly, Bishop Emeritus of Worcester, Mass.

"The title of this book, based on the well known quote, really says it all - while God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, He is also full of beautiful and incredible jaw dropping surprises, especially where His love and mercy are concerned. This book reminds us that no one is ever out of God's reach. Even when we, in our very limited capacity may think all is lost, along comes the Lord and all things are made new." - Teresa Tomeo, Syndicated Catholic Talk Show Host

Michael Pakaluk is a Professor of Philosophy at Ave Maria University in Florida. He has authored numerous philosophical books and articles, and is credited with contributing to the recent revival of philosophical interest in the topic of friendship.

Peter Kreeft, Ph.D., is a professor of philosophy at Boston College who uses that dialog format in a series published by Ignatius Press, called "Socrates Meets..." So far, Dr. Kreeft has written Philosophy 101 by Socrates, Socrates Meets Marx, Socrates Meets Machiavelli, Socrates Meets Sartre, and Socrates Meets Kant.

Dr. Kreeft has written more than forty books, including C.S. Lewis for the Third Millennium, Fundamentals of the Faith, Catholic Christianity, Back to Virtue, Three Approaches to Abortion, and The Philosophy of Tolkien. His most recent Ignatius Press books include You Can Understand the Bible, The God Who Loves You, and Because God Is Real: Sixteen Questions, One Answer. (A complete list of Ignatius Press books by Kreeft can be viewed on his IgnatiusInsight.com author page.)

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