In praying about our responsibility to each other in life, I’d like to share true stories about two women from the 1900’s who walked very opposite paths. One was born in 1879. Another girl, halfway around the world, was born in 1910. The first was the middle child of 11. The second was the youngest of 3. Each of them had siblings who died in infancy. Both were born to Catholic parents. Both were baptized. Each girl experienced trauma with the death of one of her parents. Both families were thrown into desperate poverty. 

The first girl named Maggie lost her mom…and her dad couldn’t cope with life afterwards. He fell away from the Church blaming God, succumbed to alcoholism, and lived a difficult life that was unbearable to his children. Maggie and her many siblings experienced life as chaos; they felt abandoned and unloved. No one was there to help. The second girl was named Agnes and she lost her dad… and mom held everything together through her faith. She clung tightly to the Church and raised her family with structure, purpose, love, and dignity. 

Maggie came to blame her mother’s death on so many pregnancies. She became bitter toward motherhood. Maggie very much believed in the newly popular ideas of worldwide overpopulation. One of her most famous quotes: “The most merciful thing that a family does to one of its infant members is to kill it.” She became a nurse and vowed to save every woman from the “tyranny of childbirth, religious faith, and marriage.” Her solution was to eliminate every person who was not desired and offer birth control to all women who didn’t want to conceive children. 

The other girl Agnes saw how the Catholic faith was a lifeline for her mother. She felt deeply called to help those who were worse off than she and joined a religious order in a distant country. One of her most famous quotes: “God still loves the world and He sends you and me to be His love and His compassion to the poor.” She wanted all people in the world to experience her God’s tenderness and compassion. She wanted to eliminate suffering by loving one unwanted person at a time. 

Maggie had a burning desire to see the day when Eugenics and “forced sterilization of ignorant races” was acceptable, the norm. Meanwhile, Agnes had a burning desire: “to quench God’s thirst for love and for souls.” 

Maggie became dear friends with Ernst Rudin, who was then serving as Adolph Hitler’s Director of Genetic Sterilization and defended the Third Reich’s pre-holocaust culture of death. She surrounded herself with “intellectuals” who shared her views and wanted to rid society of the lowest classes so the “genetically superior races” could be elevated. Agnes was dear friends with a Polish bishop who narrowly escaped the Nazi’s death marches and was a champion to stand up for a culture of life. She was drawn to people who were unwanted and discarded so she could give them hope and a sense of dignity.

Maggie was Margaret Higgins Sanger who became known as the foundress of Planned Parenthood. The other was Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu (Goan-JHA  Bo-YAH-jha-OO), who later became known as Mother Teresa.

I am certain God loved them both. He chased after both of them. He went to the cross to sacrifice himself for both girls. Yes, they each had free will and are ultimately responsible for their own actions, but no one is totally self-sufficient. We are intimately connected and influenced by others. A British sermon penned by John Donne in the early 1600’s says: “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main… Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind. And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”

The difference between Margaret Sanger and Mother Teresa is not just in the choices they made, but also the people for good or for evil who influenced them. All of our lives are woven together into the weave of time. God knits people into our lives to serve as guideposts and healers, teachers and friends, while the evil one intwines distractions and lies to confuse and bind us. 

I think how surely God must have thread teachers, neighbors, relatives, priests, and peers into Margaret’s life to help form her in the direction of love. I can’t help but ponder what could have changed in her life if YOU crossed paths with Maggie when she was forming her anti-Catholic world view? What if YOU had a fated conversation with her father? What if YOU helped that family with meals, brought some normalcy into their home as a friend, or took the kids to Church? 

As Christians, our lives are not our own. We were created to be part of a communion. God calls us every day to interact with others in love and self-sacrifice. God bless anyone who impacts souls to help shape them into Saints. God help us for anyone we have failed.