Sunday, 15 January 2012

Being pro-life in a culture of death

Chris Sparks
From the Jan/Feb 2012 Issue of Lay Witness Magazine

Every Friday during my undergraduate years at Gonzaga University, a group would get together, walk the few blocks to the nearby Planned Parenthood outlet, and pray a rosary in front of it for an end to abortion. When I became president of the club that organized the prayers, I started going along. It was a strange experience—I suddenly came to realize how very alone pro-lifers can be in modern culture, and what a stark witness this really was.

Like a Sore Thumb

We’d be there in front of this place of business, outside the nice looking iron fence, the standard issue parking lot, all tucked in between some other businesses and a children’s center across the street (oh, subtle ironies!). Depending on the season, we’d be kneeling in leaves or deciding if we’d kneel in snow. I followed the lead of the old hands and the very dedicated seminarians who helped keep the practice alive. Sometimes someone brought an image of Our Lady. Sometimes, we’d shift our spot to put some distance between our prayer and the folks who’d bring the really graphic aborted baby images—not our preferred method of pro-life presence. But each time I went, as I had my eyes shut to pray, I’d alternate between focusing on the mysteries and becoming hyperaware of every change in sound around me.

You get nervous, you see. You wonder, “What might someone do to me?” And then you realize that it was a serious thought. This is an issue over which people have killed. Heck, this is an issue that’s all about caring and killing, life and death, blessings or curses, prayers or profanity. I don’t recall hearing anyone actually yell something foul—I suspect that tells you more about my memory than it does about what actually went on. But we got honked at (Support? Disdain? Dunno . . . ), we got yelled at, we were asked if we’d take our grotesque signs and leave (we weren’t part of that group, we explained), someone tried to argue we weren’t allowed to be doing this on that particular patch of ground (we were on public grass, we told them, not private property), and so forth.

I wasn’t one of the truly dedicated, though I should have been. I didn’t go for the late night and early morning shifts for 40 Days for Life as my stoic housemate so faithfully would. But I was there, and I was praying, and I did a little bit, the tiniest of bits to try to witness, to try to bring an end to the slaughterhouse which is the culture of death.

Intolerable Light

But our efforts, like similar efforts everywhere, seemed to be the most provocative thing imaginable to many people. “How dare you politicize prayer?” demanded fellow students in the school newspaper. “How dare you attack women making a very difficult choice?” 

We represented a sign of contradiction by doing a very simple thing: kneeling in prayer outside the site of a hidden holocaust, one of many such sites in our country and around the world. We were there, bearing witness to the reality within, and some people could not bear the smallest glimpse.

Prayer sheds light, you see, as does the presence of the Body of Christ. We go, and God goes with us, joined to us by covenant and creed, by sacrament and self-donation. Even the sinners in the Church bear that light within, those marks of baptism and confirmation, the name of God and the Sign of the Cross upon us. 

So, of course, our war was not with flesh and blood, but with the powers and principalities of this present darkness—hence the prayers. Hence the pro-life movement. Pro-life, not anti-woman, not anything other than a group of people saying, “It is the most unnatural thing in the world, in human history, for the womb to be the deadliest place on earth, for mothers to pay for the killing of their children, for fathers to insist the women bearing their children seek to destroy the fruits of their wombs.” 

Yes, point to the iniquities of pagan days, the worship of Moloch, the service of bloody mouthed gods, the enlightened culture of death in other lands and other ages. Point to these and decry the Christian intolerance of similar sacrifices—you do us honor by such polemic.

The Loneliest Number 

“One is the loneliest number,” wrote Harry Nilsson. Almost. The loneliest number is two minus one—the mother bereft of her child by the hand of a person she’s paid for the privilege. Or the father who someday recalls, someday regrets, and weeps.

They are the lucky ones, though. What of the men who never know, who’ve fathered multitudes who’ll never see the light of day because the father went away and the mother just couldn’t handle a kid on their own? What of the women for whom abortion is merely a convenience, the fast food of contraception? 

There’s a YouTube video making the rounds online in which a Planned Parenthood supporter hopes for the day when a Planned Parenthood waits on every corner, like Starbucks. An odd image. Grab your coffee, have your kid killed, and get on with your day. Easy! 

What’s Next?

Pray for them. As Abby Johnson has repeatedly asked, pray for the doctors, the nurses, the clinic workers, all the Planned Parenthood apparatchiks and wandering children of God. Pray for the children, and for an end to the hideous plague. Go for a walk, wander by one of the clinics, and pray for a while. Prepare a defense for the hope that is in you so when someone asks, you can say, “I am pro-life,” and tell them why. There are reasons, not just arguments from Scripture and tradition. You’ll need the philosophy for the people of other faiths or no faith at all. Write to your elected representatives, write to the President, vote your conscience, organize and work, rally and fight in the ballot boxes and debating forums! Be a lay witness to the Gospel of Life, and to the natural law of life, as well.

And above all else, love. Love the woman in need of a home because a child shall be born, if only she has shelter. The Mother of us all was one such woman—see her face in the faces of her many daughters, and say, “I will love you, I will shelter you, I will aid you and your child.” Love as Mother Theresa loved, and try to end abortion by adopting. Let it be known that you and your husband, you and your wife, will help the women and men who conceive children before they’re ready, or who simply don’t want to raise children. Say, “I will take that image and likeness of God, I will love them for the Christ Child’s sake, for their own sake. I will love them, I will care.”

Above all, love—not hate. We are forbidden to hate them, doctor and clinic worker, mothers and fathers made barren for convenience sake. No—we must love, going down into the depths after them, standing firm in the boat captained by Peter’s heir, capable of sailing beneath the waves without sinking, without drowning, drawing on the lifeline of grace from the sacraments. Out of the depths we can cry to God, and draw Him down there with us, with them, to all the forces of the culture of death, to raise them back up to light and life, to love.

Love, and grace, and prayer—politics, and preparing the ground with reason, and Peter Maurin’s “roundtable discussions for the clarification of thought.” Let us prepare well for this fight, which has been going on far too long, and let us return to the field renewed, refreshed, and ready to press home the advantage of standing for the person, for the truth, for all that is right and good.

Chris Sparks recently received his MA in theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville. 

From Catholics United For the Faith
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