The Appalling Strangeness of the Mercy of God by Ruth Pakaluk, edited by Michael Pakaluk

(San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2011), 338

Ruth Pakaluk is a beautiful model of ordinary holiness, heroic suffering, and fierce defense of unborn life.


by Peter Kreeft

  • "Cheerfulness is neither a temporary feeling nor a genetic predisposition but a choice" (11)

Biographical Overview

by Michael Pakaluk

  • "Ordinary life consists of opportunities to show this love [cf Jn-15, especially in the relationships we have with one another, in families, as friends, and as fellow citizens. Thus, nothing hinders a homemaker from being great with the greatness of love." (17)
  • Ruth's letters are a way to get to know her, like Newman commented that "he loves the saints of the early Church because we know them largely through their own letters." (19)
  • Ruth's conversion was sparked by reading about the Pilgrims in her Harvard dorm room: "I don't even care whether what these people believed is true. I want to live like them." (22)
  • Ruth and Michael falling in love was inseparable from investigating the truth of Christianity, which they "tested as if by experiment in how one lived one's life" (23, cf. Pascal)
  • "Our love of God's law, then, pushed us to marriage." (25)
  • Their friend Curt converted to Catholicism and shared two arguments with them (26-27):
    1. The Orthodox churches split off over 1,000 years ago and are intact, but the Protestant communities split off ~400 years ago and have fractured into tens of thousands of denominations. What explains the difference except that the Catholics and Orthodox share a proper understanding of governance in the Church which Protestants lack?
    2. There has been so much drift in Protestantism that Luther and Calvin today would be more at home in the Catholic Church, showing that Catholicism is closer to the religion of the Reformers than contemporary Protestantism, and therefore closer to true Christianity.
  • Authority of bishops: " it is not possible to reject the bishops without rejecting the apostles, or to accept the authority of the apostles without accepting the authority of their successors" (29)
  • A friend of theirs worked with Fr. John Hardon and provided them his yellow catechism, other books (including Christianity in the Twentieth Century, 32), and thoughtful responses to their objections to Catholicism (31)
  • "To us it seemed that in every age the practice of Christianity involved some kind of test, some point of conflict between Christianity and the spirit of the age, and fidelity to Christ would hinge on faithfulness on this one point. We couldn't rule our that Contraception was such a test in our own time." (31)
  • They got lunch that was framed as a debate between an InterVarsity campus minister and a Catholic philosopher who trounced him...who turned out to be Peter Kreeft!! (33)
  • "When the founder of Catholics United for the Faith, H. Lyman Stebbins, was considering converting to the Catholic faith from a Protestant background, he wrote to C. S. Lewis to ask what the main arguments would be against such a change. The letter he received in reply struck him as so weakly argued that he thought, If that is all that can be said against Catholicism, then I should convert right away." (33)
  • "It now seemed almost a pressing obligation to convert, at least out of a concern for Christian unity." (33)
  • Spiritual Disciplines (40):

It was not uncommon for people to ask Ruth how she accomplished all that she did. How could she be raising several small children, working part time to help pay the bills, and on top of that taking on a purely voluntary position that would for most people be a full-time responsibility? She had no "help, did the cooking and the cleaning, took the dirty clothes to the local self-service laundry, and brought groceries home in a wheeled cart, or sometimes a child's wagon. Ruth would answer by referring to practices that, paradoxically, might seem only to diminish her available time daily prayer, daily Mass, daily Rosary, daily Scripture reading, and other spiritual practices. These, she said, gave her clarity, energy, and a desire to use her time well in God's service.

  • "When Peter saw how much we wanted to be faithful and orthodox Catholics, he said, 'I know two books you would really like', and he gave us a copy of Ludwig Ott's treatise on Catholic dogma and also a book of spiritual considerations by Escrivá called The Way." (41)
  • "Opus Dei seemed exactly what we were looking for; it offered spiritual direction, instruction, and friends who were trying to live a life of discipleship with Christ with a similar intensity." (41)
  • "It was in Worcester that the failure and even injustice of 'big government' social policies became clear to us. It was obvious that the two causes of the poverty of the people around us were broken families and a poor culture of education." (44)
  • When their infant son died of SIDS: "God must love the Pakaluks very much to have sent them this suffering" (45)
    • "As Scripture clearly teaches, God chastens with suffering those whom he loves. Also, he brings good out of evil, so that 'in everything God works for good with those who love him'" (45, Rom-08)
  • After Planned Parenthood v. Casey Ruth did not expect to see Roe overturned in her lifetime, so she focused on influencing individual hearts and minds through education (49)
  • Two lessons from Ruth's early political involvement in Worcester (50-51):
    1. You can't complain if you're unwilling to make the sacrifices needed to participate in local government
    2. In a small town, it is possible for a small group of committed people to make real progress changing the political structure and culture
  • Ruth on her breast cancer: "I have total peace that God will bring good out of this experience, whatever the outcome." (53, 129)

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. (61-62)

  • "A big turning point in Ruth's thinking about the abortion controversy occurred one day when she was looking for abortion-related books in the used book section in the basement of Harvard Book Store, and she came across In Necessity and Sorrow: Life and Death in an Abortion Clinic, by Magda Denes. The author is a firm advocate of tax-funded abortion on demand throughout all nine months of pregnancy. But she is a clinical psychologist, and therefore her intention is to gather facts about how abortion affects those involved with it. So in the book, she describes how she goes to an abortion facility and interviews doctors, nurses, counselors, the women having the abortions, and those who accompany these women. She even witnesses and describes an abortion. Paradoxically, this book by an abortion advocate was usually the first one Ruth would recommend to anyone who wanted to do further reading. What the book made clear to Ruth is that people directly involved with abortion are well aware that they are killing human persons—because that's how they themselves describe abortion. It's that very realization that causes them to be conflicted about abortion." (62)
  • Battling for our minds are "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. These two cultures, she thought, were vying for the allegiance of the young people she was addressing, and her concern was to teach them what they should know in order that they might choose life." (63)

Selected Letters

by Ruth Pakaluk

About Abraham's the sacrifice of Isaac in Gn-22:

I think the sacrifice incident is properly seen as a test of the strength of Abraham's faith. (It is good to keep in mind that the Lord promises never to test us beyond our strength, so the fact that this was Abraham's test shows how great was his faith.) God had promised to Abraham that he would be the father of a great nation. By asking Abraham to sacrifice his only son, God was testing to see whether Abraham would trust that God knew best what His promise meant. Also, the test showed whether Abraham loved God above all other things.

The final, most important thing to keep in mind is this that God actually did what He asked Abraham to do. This incident strikes us as the most cruel, arbitrary command of a jealous God. Yet God Himself actually did what Abraham was not finally required to do God actually let His Son be sacrificed for us. That is what makes the Abraham-Isaac story so amazing.

  • Her reading included Fr. John Hardon (74), Autobiography of St. Teresa of Ávila (77), Beowulf (109), A Man Called Intrepid (112), Lost in the Cosmos (120, "a book every Californian should read"), The Second Coming (137, one of her favorite novels)—of which she said "Love irresistibly leads one to think in terms of absolutes and eternity" (147), WindFall (146), In a Dark Wood Wandering (146), Ivanhoe (174), Ideas Have Consequences (182), The End of the Affair (182, Graham Greene's best), A Man for All Seasons (185), Brighton Rock (197, "I cannot absolve you, but come back soon. Come back tomorrow. You cannot conceive, I cannot conceive, the appalling strangeness of the mercy of God."), Summa Theologiae (198, weekly sessions taught by her husband at the parish)
  • "If we don't stop the wanton slaughter of pre-born life, then nuclear holocaust will be the only fitting end for our society." (115)
  • "That period of uncertainty was still a good time—it helped me become much more abandoned to God's will. Now, oddly enough, I am happier than I have ever been in my life." (171)
  • "How much easier it is to face death with a clean conscience." (176)
  • "Ignorance, confusion, and rejection of authentic authority are wreaking havoc in the Church." (177)
  • "This life is short, and it is merely the qualifying exam for the real thing." (182)
  • "I try to remember that I should be glad of the opportunities to unite my sufferings with Christ. Then, when Ia actually feel miserable, this all goes right out the window. It's tedious." (183)
  • "The Protestants have an utterly ahistorical view of reality." (186, cf. ~An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine)
  • "I am even just a little bit impatient to see heaven." (201)
  • "My mother was a stoic, and I took after her somewhat in this regard. I admire it a lot. But don't let it substitute for Christian hope and joy." (204)
  • "This life is short and heave is the point, so why not get on with the main point. I trust that the way God arranges life is always the best way." (207)

Selected Talks

by Ruth Pakaluk

Contrition and Sacramental Confession

  • It's easy to get attached to our picture of what God's will is rather than accepting what it really is (218)
  • He wants us to do as much as we can on our own, and we have to learn one little lesson at a time (218)
  • Often what we need is not what we want or what we are looking for (219)

Life of Piety

  • The outward form of our piety is not in itself the important matter, but having suitable outward forms is essential because we have bodies (220)
  • There are lots of devotions, but pick one to start. Start with the Mass: "A man who fails to love the Mass fails to love Christ." (222, cf The Way #92)

Sanctifying Ordinary Work

  • The ordinary activities of daily life are the raw material that ordinary Christians use to sanctify the world around them (225)
  • Sanctifying ordinary work means treating all the activities of daily life and work as opportunities to love God to serve God, and to glorify God (226)
  • Practical tips: morning offering, use material realities to stand for supernatural realities (227)

Family Time: Summer Vacation

  • Say to someone who frustrates you: "See you in heaven (I hope)" (240)
  • Put your interior life first (241)


  • We do the best we can to provide for our families, but once we have done our best, we must accept with grace whatever lack of material means God has sent to us. (242)
  • Detachment brings true freedom and the ability to possess without being possessed (243)
  • To be poor, we can:
    • Be generous in giving
    • Get rid of excess goods: they are a weight on your soul

Suffering: Living our Crosses

  • This is the essential sin—to prefer our will to God's will...The experience of physical or spiritual suffering patiently endured for God's sake is a most effective way of realigning our will correctly (244)
  • When suffering, ask: What does God want me to learn from this? (245)

The Rosary and May Pilgrimages

  • We should just do what Mary asks and trust that she really does know what is for our own good. She wants people to say the Rosary each day (251)

Abortion and the Culture of Human Rights

  • Two value systems are competing for our allegiance: the Culture of Life and the Culture of Death (254)
  • What motivates arguments about abortion being wrong is simply this: All human beings are equal in our essential dignity (263)
  • To read to understand Abortion: In Necessity and Sorrow: Life and Death in an Abortion Hospital (264)
  • "Abortion advocates know perfectly well that abortion is the taking of a human life. There is no doubt. There is not doubt on that question. And that's the big divide, and those are the two cultures competing for your. And you have to choose." (265) ^4ec521

Topic: Conversion Story, Abortion


New Words

  • conspectus: a general survey of a subject (31)

Created: 2023-09-25-Mon
Updated: 2024-06-01-Sat