And old song from the Taizé Community says, “Within our darkest night [, Lord], you kindle a fire that never dies away, that never dies away.” Something of this “light in darkness” has come to me in the deep winter of moral collapse that is present-day America. For this I can only thank the Lord and marvel at His paradoxical providence.
In my parish, the darkness was made very local and very real when Planned Parenthood announced the opening of their “flagship” center, right here in our neighborhood.
To add insult to injury, the center would be located next door to an elementary school and directly across the street from a middle school. On that street, many children would enter through school doors to be educated for life. But through other doors, children would enter to have their lives snuffed out, some by chemical burning, others by dismemberment.
To add irony to injury, the facility would be located on 4th St. NE at number 1225 (12/25 is Christmas Day). Coincidence? I doubt it. Even if men are not so clever, the Evil One is. 1225 … a kind of mockery of the Incarnation.
Our darkest night was upon us.
“Within our darkest night [, Lord], you kindle a fire that never dies away, that never dies away.”
Pro-life action was not a signature of the parishes surrounding Capitol Hill. But with the looming threat of the new “flagship” center, all that was about to change.
As a local pastor, I knew that if I did nothing about this abortion “clinic,” my parish and I would face severe judgment one day. A prayer discussion began in my heart and in the hearts of others as well. My own heartfelt awareness sounded something like this:
“What must I do, O Lord? Few of the parishes in the Capitol Hill neighborhood have active prolife ministries!”
And whose fault is that? the Lord asked me.
“Mine (and others), I suppose.”
Well, skip the blame game and get started. You know what to do; you’ve done it before.
“Ah. Get people to walk, people to pray, and people to cook!”
Yes! Form a community of life. Gather leaders and get started. I have 7,000 people on Capitol Hill who have never bent the knee to Baal (1 Kings 19:18; Rom 11:3-5). Go to them, anoint leaders, and summon them to witness.
Five parishes, stirred from their slumber, switched on the light, began to pray, and prepared to act.
Yes, in this dark hour, God kindled a light. Sometimes it seems dark, but dawn is not far away; it’s just beneath the horizon. It was time to assemble a community of life to call the culture of death to reconsider and to repent. As the local dean at that time, I was commanded by the Lord to act.
Through my experience with evangelization, I had learned that witnesses require support from others. Due to advanced age, failing health, or perhaps just a reserved demeanor, some people find it difficult to engage others. But even so, they can do other things such as praying for those who witness or helping to sustain those witnesses by providing a meal. In previous outreach efforts by my parish, we evangelized the neighborhood in such a way that the whole parish could participate. Some walked from door to door. Others prayed in the church while we walked. Still others prepared a meal so that all could debrief, rejoice, and build a unified community at the end of the day.
God gave me this message:
Do it here. I want a community of life to come forth from the parishes surrounding this dark clinic. Some will walk in witness, some will pray in church at the same time, some will prepare a meal to help all to give thanks and build a supportive community. I have appointed leaders already. Call the diocese; they will help. I will be with you; just get started!
God sent so many people to help from the five parishes and all around the diocese. He sent Teresa, Mary, Maggie, Yajaira, Susan, Linda, Molly, Fr. Hyacinth, Chris, and Elisa, just to name a few (this isn’t meant to be an exhaustive list, and I don’t mean to belittle anyone’s contributions). He sent many others who provided wisdom and experience.
Five parishes together supplied both experienced and new pro-life leaders. By God’s grace, we gathered together to build a community of life. It was still dark, but God was kindling a light. Our meetings began.
Just before I went to a key meeting, I prayed, “Give us a sign, Lord. We want to be sure that we’re doing your will. We need to hear from you. Give us a charge and a name, O Lord!”
I opened up the Bible at random and put my finger down on the page, near the top. Though I usually give the Lord one “do over,” it was not necessary this time. When I looked down, my finger was pointing to this text from Proverbs:
If you faint in the day of adversity, your strength is small. Rescue those who are being taken away to death; hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter. If you say, “Behold, we did not know this,” does not God who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it, and will he not repay man according to our work? (Proverbs 24:10-12)
I was astounded; I couldn’t wait to share it!
When I arrived at the meeting, I told the group what had happened. We all sat in silence. God could not have been any clearer. Though we had wondered what to call our new community of life, one of our leaders, Mary, now suggested, “Why not call it ‘Proverbs 24’?”
I wondered aloud whether the name was too vague, but we decided that it was a name that would make people ask about it and then we’d have a teaching opportunity.
And so we had our name: “Proverbs 24: A Community of Life.”
We began to recruit actively from the five parishes. We asked for people who would witness, people who would pray in church for us, and people who would prepare a communal meal. Two Sundays during Respect Life Month in October featured our announcements. We had sign-up tables where people could indicate their willingness to attend an orientation and commit to three Saturdays of witness in front of the Planned Parenthood “clinic,” prayer in the church at the same time, or help in preparing a communal meal.
Meanwhile, we tried legal means to prevent the opening. Surely the zoning laws would require a hearing before such a facility was opened right next to a school! At such a site, no liquor store would be able to be opened without public notice. Yet we, the citizens of the neighborhood, were not informed until the project was well underway. We requested and were granted an appeal, but unfortunately, on Oct. 4th, our appeal was denied. And so, shortly before the 100th anniversary of Planned Parenthood in mid-October, the center opened.
But all is not lost. As a result of our recruiting effort at Sunday Masses, ninety people across the five parishes expressed interest in helping and forty-five showed up this past Saturday for training.
Please pray for us. Although Satan has made a move in our community, God never fails. He will bring good even from this dreadful abortion center. If our parishes were sleepy in this regard in the past, shame on us. But God has a way of awakening a faithful remnant. Pray that we will grow. Pray that we will persevere. And please pray that we will never fail to witness to the glory of human life, no matter the challenges.
“Within our darkest night Lord, you kindle a fire that never dies away, that never dies away.”