Every now and then the Lord just has you look at something in depth and experience it to the top. It was that sort of weekend for me and the Lord was clear that he wanted me to meditate deeply and experience personally the tragedy of the taking of human life. Put more positively, the Lord wanted me to see the dignity of human life and grieve it’s loss. My lesson came in three stages.
Stage One: At the Abortion Facility – Early on Saturday morning I went to St. Matthews Cathedral here in DC to celebrate the 8:00 am Mass. The Mass was sponsored by the Archdiocese and was a “Witness To Life Mass.” After the Mass, thirty of us walked several blocks and stopped to pray in front the Planned Parenthood Abortion “Facility” (I will not call it a clinic), just up the street from the White House on 16th Street. It was a cold and snowy morning but we prayed and prayed. Twenty decades of the Rosary and over twenty hymns were sung. Sadly, despite the snow, it was a brisk business at Planned Parenthood. I saw over a dozen women enter the facility in just over an hour.
It really is a devastating experience to pray in front of abortion facilities. I have done it many times before and always leave drained and deeply sad. Most of the “women” were not really women at all. Most of them were young girls and very young women, most were minorities, and most of them were scared. Most of them were also led there by a parent or a “boyfriend.” Pro-Choice “escorts” would surround them and lead them to the door. Our presence was one last attempt to beg them to consider adoption and to not give up on life. What a tragedy this steady procession was, for both mother and child. Yes, most of them look very scared. And why not? Something awful was about to happen, something awful. Deep down they know.
And so we prayed. We prayed for a last minute change of heart. And even if the worse did happen it was somehow important for us to pray for the children who were lost. Perhaps somehow they will know, and the Lord will reveal to them that someone was praying for them as they lost their life. Someone knew, someone wept, someone prayed.
For those young women we also prayed. They may not have understood that. In fact, we may have seemed like their worst nightmare. Perhaps they hoped to slip into the facility unnoticed, but there we were. But though we seemed like a bad dream, I pray that one day they will know that we prayed for them too. We prayed in love, prayed for their strength to choose life. And those pro-choice escorts may have seemed friends, but true friends don’t lead friends into abortion facilities. Yes, we prayed that these young women will know that, long after Planned Parenthood has collected its money, and the escorts have gone home, the Church will remain to offer healing and acceptance as the weight of what took place Saturday morning remains. Yes we prayed for them and Project Rachel waits for them.
The most difficult moment came for me when one mother, after having left her daughter behind for the abortion, came back out and rebuked us saying that “My daughter has a future career to think about, forget you!” I doubt she knew that the final line of the epistle at Mass said Children, be on your guard against idols (1 John 5:21). It echoed eerily in my mind as she breezed by and I prayed for her too.
A Sacrifice of pain – Yes, praying in front of an abortion facility is devastating and difficult. But just as the prayers had their effect, so too does the Lord allow us to suffer and to offer that suffering in sacrifice. The pain is deep, but surely no deeper than the pain of Jesus as he beheld our sins and died for us.
Stage Two: Agony in Arizona – The rest of the morning featured parish meetings. But the morning took its toll and a nap was necessary before the evening Mass. Yet I awoke depressed, and soon found out why. It was not just the morning, that was awful enough, but my radio had been on during my brief nap and it broadcast news of the terrible shootings in Arizona. Surely this news had entered my dreams for I awoke knowing something awful had happened. Indeed it had, six were dead, twelve critically injured. A crazed killer, more death, more disregard for human life. It was like two bookends to a bloody Saturday.
Stage Three: Bomb Threat – And yet, if all lessons are perfect in threes, the Lord gave me a final lesson today. Mass was wonderful and as the last of the parishioners prepared to leave the police ordered us back into the building. A bomb threat was received in a building near the parish and it was not safe to leave the Church. Two members of Congress live in the building and this would seem the likely cause for the threat. The Arizona carnage had reached East Capitol Street. Human life again, under threat and many more lives disrupted. After an hour and a half the all clear was sounded. No further information was available.
I can only tell you what I told the faithful this weekend. Human life is sacred. No one on this planet is a mistake, no one is an accident. All of us are directly intended and willed by God. We exist because He thought of us, loved us, and personally created us. Every attack or threat on human life is an attack on us all for, if one life can be disregarded or thought to have no worth, then any human life can be considered in this way. Even the troublesome among us are loved by God.
The Catechism has this to say:
The inalienable rights of the person must be recognized and respected by civil society and the political authority. These human rights depend neither on single individuals nor on parents; nor do they represent a concession made by society or the state; they belong to human nature and are inherent in the person by virtue of the creative act from which the person took his origin. Among such fundamental rights one should mention in this regard every human being’s right to life and physical integrity from the moment of conception until death.
The moment a positive law deprives a category of human beings of the protection which civil legislation ought to accord them, the state is denying the equality of all before the law. When the state does not place its power at the service of the rights of each citizen, and in particular of the more vulnerable, the very foundations of a state based on law are undermined. . . . As a consequence of the respect and protection which must be ensured for the unborn child from the moment of conception, the law must provide appropriate penal sanctions for every deliberate violation of the child’s rights.” (CCC # 2273)
Change begins with me: We live in times in which human live is seriously threatened by huge numbers of abortion, by violence, unjust war, and euthanasia. We may, as individuals feel powerless to stop it. But, truth be told, the conversion of this world has to start with us. We cannot simply lament. We must pray and act. The conversion of the whole world begins with me as I learn to be less reactive and violent, less anger-prone, less ridiculing, less bigoted, less fearful. The conversion of the world begins when I ask God for the miracle to help me to deeply love everyone, even the difficult people in my life. The conversion of the whole world begins when I ask God for the miracle to forgive people who have harmed or hurt me. The conversion of the world starts when I begin to more deeply experience the dignity of every person, especially the most vulnerable, the poor and the troubled.
No, I can’t change the world, But I can change myself by God’s grace. And when I get better, others get better too.
A bloody weekend for this pastor. But a newfound commitment to ask God for a deeper love and reverence for every human person.
Here’s a video I put together some time ago. The song text is Psalm 139 and focuses especially on the love of God despite even our sins. The photos use 3D imagery to show the stages of development in the womb.
For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be (Psalm 139:13-16).