Pondering Abortion in the African American Community

Last week came the news of a showdown of sorts in the New York area regarding abortion in the Black community. The Billboard that you see at the right was displayed in SoHo section of New York and says, The Most Dangerous Place for and African American is in the Womb. The billboard was placed by a local Chapter of group known as Life Always. After controversy, threatened protests, and even a plan by Al Sharpton to organize significant demonstrations, the group chose to remove the sign. The sign continues to appear elsewhere in the country.

Once again we confront the very painful and very deadly issue of abortion. In this post I would like to set forth a number of independent though related points regarding abortion in the Black Community. Most of you know, though I am white, I have spent most of my 22 years as a priest ministering in African American Parishes and I love doing so. Most of you also know that I, as any Catholic Priest would be, am strongly pro-life. There are particular factors regarding abortion when it comes to the African American Community and some of them need to be confronted and explored. Allow me to list them here in a somewhat disconnected way:

  1. The high rate of abortion in the Black community is very sobering and sad. African Americans make up about 12% of the US population but account for 30% of abortions. Hispanics are over represented as well, though not as steeply. They account for 25% of abortions while being about 17% of the US population.[1]
  2. Staggering Numbers – Since 1973, over 15 million black children have been lost to abortion. Over 1,400 black children are killed every day through abortion. The African American Population is currently only 37 million. What this means is that if these 15 million aborted babies had survived and had some children of their own, the African American population would be almost double the size it is today. Half are gone in 40 years.
  3. The billboard in New York was in response to the dreadful news that in the New York area 60 % of Black pregnancies end in abortion.
  4. Highest Cause of Death by Far –  These are all staggering numbers. No other cause of death among Blacks (or whites for that matter) even comes close to the toll that abortion takes. Add up the numbers of deaths from heart disease, AIDS, diabetes, cancer, accidents and violent crimes, multiply it by two,  and we are not even close to the number who have died by abortion.
  5. Very few want to discuss this. There may be gatherings to lament the number who have died by AIDS, or heart disease and programs announced to try and reduce the number of deaths by these. But abortion is “off the radar.” This is not unique to the Black community but it the numbers are higher and condition even more critical. And still there is silence. It is almost like rushing to add water to the sink, but no one wants to admit that the drain is wide open.
  6. Some ARE beginning to discuss this topic however. And, it is a long and difficult road to get the topic on the agenda. The billboard above is one such attempt. Making African Americans aware of the staggering numbers is another important task. Even prominent members of the African American Community are beginning to speak out. (See below).
  7. Some years ago when I mentioned abortion, a parishioner said to me, “Abortion isn’t our issue Father, we Blacks keep our babies.” And her perception is a common one in the African American Community. Very few see aware of the huge numbers and the over-representation of the African American Community in the abortion numbers.
  8. I do not find open support for abortion in my parish. It is more a question of not wanting to discuss the issue. When I preach against abortion I do not get angry letters or people walking out. I am not confronted after Mass. What I do get is a lot of silence and I sense pain in that silence as well as a certain startled quality when the numbers are made plain.
  9. The billboard in New York (and elsewhere) makes a true statement. There is just no other place where 60% of black people go and will not make it out alive. The nationwide rate is only a little lower, with 47% of black pregnancies ending abortion [2].  By comparison 16% of white pregnancies so end. The fact is that it simply IS a much bigger problem in the African American Community. Still, one may ask, where do 16% of White Americans go and not make it out alive? Hence, one may legitimately ask, where are the similar billboards in White or other ethnic communities? In the end though, part of the answer has to be that the numbers are so much higher in the Black Community. The numbers simply cannot be ignored.
  10. The Billboard however may be critiqued for its tactic. There is one approach which says that prophets should not mince words, and to some extent I agree with this. However, when it comes to abortion, I have discovered that there are many deep and very personal struggles associated with abortion. In such a scenario, and presuming we are trying to reach out, inform and win hearts and minds, I am not sure the “stick in the eye” approach is the most effective. To tweak and provoke has its place, but I am not sure here is that place. The Ad can be (and has been) interpreted to mean that Black women are bad mothers, or dangerous. The focus is more on the women than the lost children. I am not sure that this is what we mean to communicate or that such a message is helpful.
  11. The Higher numbers in the Black community are due to numerous factors. Poverty is likely the chief factor. 42% of abortions are performed on women who are poor [3].  The breakdown of the Black family is another factor. 85% of abortions are performed on unmarried women [4]. The breakdown of the Black Family is complicated. A huge factor is the Welfare system, which has and continues to reward single parent scenarios and punishes marriage. An astonishing fact is that only 37% of Black women have ever been married. While this is shocking, the rest of America is catching up. Marriage and family are in trouble everywhere, and this is bound to affect the question of abortion.
  12. The Black community has been targeted by Abortion providers. Some dispute if this is the case today, but there is no doubt that, historically, the Black Community was targeted for reduction and even elimination by the founder of Planned Parenthood, Margaret Sanger. Sanger was a eugenicist and thought of the Black and Brown races as inferior. She sought, through the use of contraception, and later, Abortion, to reduce and ultimately eliminate them. She is infamously quoted as saying, The [Black] minister’s work is also important and he should be trained, perhaps by the Federation as to our ideals and the goal that we hope to reach. We do not want word to go out that we want to exterminate the Negro population, and the minister is the man who can straighten out that idea if it ever occurs to any of their more rebellious members (Letter to Gamble, Dec 10, 1939). I Have written more extensively on this topic here:  Origins of Planned Parenthood. Planned Parenthood denies it targets Black and Latinos today. Yet it remains true that the highest percentage of abortions are sold by them to Black and Latino women. Many also argue that most of Planned Parenthood “clinics” are located in minority neighborhoods. They deny this and provide statistics to refute it. But as one might expect, how we define “minority neighborhood” is crucial to determining the real number.
  13. But in the End, No Excuses Please – So there ARE many factors that drive the numbers of African American abortions higher. However, we must also avoid patronizing attitudes that seek to absolve the Black community from all responsibility. Despite the challenges of poverty and broken families due to welfare, the Black woman and the Black man remain moral agents, who make choices for which they are responsible and accountable. Simply offering explanations cannot ultimately excuse any community from asking necessary questions and addressing the horrifying numbers of abortion. Pastors of Black Churches such as me have an obligation to bring this before the community and preach with clarity that Abortion is murder and it must end. We must help women who are in crisis,  and we must seek, with the wider community, to provide real and true alternatives, to include adoption. Poverty cannot exclude such a discussion. And frankly, huge numbers of African Americans made it out of poverty a long time ago.
  14. We simply have to confront these numbers. We must discuss them openly. There will be some who wish to claim that racism is the real motive. But I am not sure how concern for the death of African American babies is racism. Others will see it as racist that the Black community is singled out. It is not, Abortion remains a human problem affecting us all. But, it cannot be denied that the numbers are significantly higher in the African American Community and this must be confronted and addressed in a way that is not accusatory but also not patronizing.
  15. It’s going to be a long process. The intersections between race, politics, abortion and culture are deep. Building trust is key. Many in the Black community wonder of the Pro-Life Community’s motives and true commitment. Many wonder at the concern expressed for unborn babies and the apparent lack of similar concern for born babies. I don’t think the charge is wholly fair (and is driven mostly by politicians), but the perception is real and it must be dealt with. Trust must be built and this takes time. But a journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.
  16. Powerful and New Voices – Thank God some good and powerful voices are emerging. The video s below help detail some of that. Further, three members of the family of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. have stepped forward and begun a discussion about abortion. I want to end with a statement recently issued by them:

As our nation pauses to recommit itself to fulfilling the dream of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., we invite our fellow citizens to reflect on how that dream touches every human life. Dr. King taught that justice and equality need to be as wide-reaching as humanity itself. Nobody can be excluded from the Beloved Community. He taught that ‘injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.’

In his 1967 Christmas sermon, he pointed out the foundation of this vision: ‘The next thing we must be concerned about if we are to have peace on earth and good will toward men is the nonviolent affirmation of the sacredness of all human life. …Man is a child of God, made in His image, and therefore must be respected as such….And when we truly believe in the sacredness of human personality, we won’t exploit people, we won’t trample over people with the iron feet of oppression, we won’t kill anybody.’

The work of building the Beloved Community is far from finished. In each age, it calls us to fight against poverty, discrimination, and violence in every form. And as human history unfolds, the forms that discrimination and violence take will evolve and change. Yet our commitment to overcome them must not change, and we must not shrink from the work of justice, no matter how unpopular it may become.

In our day, therefore, we cannot ignore the discrimination, injustice, and violence that are being inflicted on the youngest and smallest members of the human family, the children in the womb. Thousands of these children are killed every day in America by abortion, throughout all nine months of pregnancy.

We declare today that these children too are members of the Beloved Community, that our destiny is linked with theirs, and that therefore they deserve justice, equality, and protection.

And we can pursue that goal, no matter what ethnic, religious, or political affiliation we have. None of that has to change in order for us to embrace Dr. King’s affirmation of the sacredness of all human life. It simply means that in our efforts to set free the oppressed, we include the children in the womb.
We invite all people of good will to join us in the affirmation that children in the womb have equal rights and human dignity.”

Dr. Alveda King
Director, African-American Outreach, Priests for Life
Niece of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Mrs. Naomi Barber King
Wife of the late Rev. A.D. King (brother of Martin Luther King, Jr.)

Rev. Derek King
Indianapolis, Indiana
Nephew of Martin Luther King, Jr.



To Stand Up for Life is to Experience Life!

If you have ever had the exciting privilege of being in Washington for the Pro-Life March you how true it is that  you always leave exhausted, but more alive than you came. The Pro-life March, for a Catholic especially, is really more than just the March, it is  a series of activities. In the days immediately before the March there are usually seminars and other focused gatherings around life and bio-ethical issues. Then there is the great Vigil Mass for Life, at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, the night before the March. The Great Upper Church of the Basilica can comfortably seat about 4,000 people. But the Vigil Mass for Life brings often 8,000 or more. People are standing in the aisles, the side chapels, in every nook and cranny. The Sanctuary around the High Altar is packed with Bishops, priests, deacons, and seminarians from all over the country. Visible in the Church are Religious men and women in consecrated life showing  a magnificent display of diversity in their habits. The congregation is filled with men an women and young people of every age group, and every ethnic and racial diversity imaginable. If you want to know how catholic (universal) the Catholic Church really is, just come to the Basilica for the Vigil Mass for Life!

The bigger picture – There are some who want to describe the Church as aging and of declining numbers. Some want to describe the Church as not being able to connect with the young, or with peoples of non-European descent. Some say her clergy and religious are aging. But come to the pro-life vigil Mass and behold the youthful diversity of the Church! And even if you can’t go, watch, as the EWTN cameras pan the congregation. Most of the religious in traditional habits are young. And there are hundreds and hundreds of them! Watch as the seemingly endless procession of clergy and seminarians enter, again, by the hundreds. And there too, youthful vigor is in strong display! So many are the priests and seminarians that they overflow the sanctuary into the side chapel for the Blessed Sacrament and into the ambulatory behind and around the High Altar. Here is a Basilica, one of the ten largest churches in the world, filled to overflowing with life, joy and worship! Yes, the Church is a bride, she is not a widow!  Indeed, she is the joyful mother of multitudes.

Rally Riches – And this is just the Vigil Mass. The next day, of your pro-life pilgrimage features a youth Rally at the Verizon Center. The doors open early for music and praise. 28,000, mostly young people, pack the place. Music, inspired talks, the wave and ten trillion watts of youthful energy fill the center in one of its largest functions of the year. A reverent but energetic Mass follows, celebrated by Cardinal Wuerl. One of the younger priests of the Archdiocese usually preaches an energetic and youth oriented homily. And then, after the  reception of Holy Communion, concluding prayer and praise, the youthful  congregation bursts forth onto the streets of Downtown Washington to head for the March line-up on the Mall.

Overflow! The number of young people vastly outsizes the capacity of the Verizon Center. This year an alternative overflow site at the DC Armory hosted an additional 10,000 young people. There too, after prayer and praise and the celebration of the Holy Mass the young people and their adult chaperons headed for the Mall to begin the March.

And march itself  is also a remarkable display in diversity. The balance is wonderfully tipped toward a youthful appearance. Here, Catholics join non-Catholics, fellow believers and even non-believers to march in six-figure numbers. The joy, the prayer, the hope and the experience of how right and just it is to support life all fill the air. It is usually cold, but the warmth within the crowd is tangible. And again, it is the youth who so often set the tone. They have zeal and zest as they lead chants and celebrate life.

The only angry people I met today were the pro-choice counter demonstrators I spoke with. There were about a dozen of them in front of the Supreme Court and I went to each one of them and individually said, as I looked into their eyes, “In your heart you know better, you know abortion is terribly wrong.” I spoke as softly as I could in the outdoor environment with a lot of background noise. I was trying to go right for their conscience, which, though suppressed, is still there. For the voice of God ultimately echoes in every human person according to the Catechism (cf  CCC # 1776). Deep down they DO know that abortion is wrong.

I only got about half way through the group before they surrounded me and began to engage me. Their primary accusation against me seemed to be that I was not a woman. Of this I am guilty, but suggested to them that to determine the wrongness of abortion did not require a womb but, rather, a mind and a heart, something both men and women have! 🙂  They grew angrier with me as I didn’t easily go away but continued down the line suggesting to each one that they knew,  deep down, that it was wrong to abort babies. I wanted to speak this to each one personally. I wanted to try and reach their conscience. Difficult, but worth trying.

In the end they chose to serenade me! And here was the song they sang:

  • Hey Hey, Ho, Ho! Pro-life men have got to go!
  • Hey, Hey, Ho, Ho! If YOU got pregnant then you’d know!

Even here, Life!  Well, I just smiled and prayed, and the ladies in the rosary group behind me redoubled their prayers and I stood there and waited for the counter-protesters to grow tired of singing. I was grateful to suffer for the sake of the Name and to be a “fool for Christ” (1 Cor 4:10). Yes, even this was life giving for me. Dr. King had once said, “If you find a good fight, get in it!” And here I was on the front line, in the forward trench.

Just in the nick of time reinforcements arrived! A parishioner and friend JJ, (and a reader of this blog), arrived. And she’s a woman! I explained how they were singing this lovely song for me and suggesting, in a rather bigoted way,  that my mere maleness rendered me incapable of having a valid understanding.  Their song, (intended to give me the bum’s rush), eventually gave way to exhaustion. I restated my case, appealing to their conscience and introduced JJ, my friend, and pointed out, by the way, that she is a woman. She went to work and gave them the “Come to Jesus” talk!

Yes, even here there was life and the paradoxical joy of being able to suffer accusation and be thought a fool (for Christ).

In the end, to stand up for life is to experience life and to experience it to the top! The March for Life shows the Church fully alive, youthful, joyful, numerous and diverse. We have discussed before on this blog with sobriety some alarming trends and numbers in the western branch of the Church. But this weekend shows once again that the Church is a bride, not a widow. That she remains alive and strong, prophetic and enthusiastic. It shows that her young are still numerous, that vocations are rebounding. It shows that zeal for the truth is still deep in a faithful remnant that is glad to be alive, glad to celebrate life, glad to be Catholic and experience that the Church is catholic (universal). To stand up for life is to experience life. Come next year to Washington.

This video shows some glimpses of the Pro-Life Youth Rally at the Verizon Center. The footage is from Catholic.tv

The Miracle of Life – A Meditation on Mystery and Beauty of Life as we March

The magnificence of life is really too wonderful too describe. But I found this description some years ago which summons reverence by its very ability to baffle the mind:

MIRACLE OF LIFE– Consider the miracle of the human body.  Its chemistry is just as extraordinarily well tuned as is the physics of the cosmos.  Our world on bothsides of the divide that separates life from lifelessness is filled with wonder.  Each human cell has a double helix library of three billion base pairs providing fifty thousand genes.  These three billion base pairs and fifty thousand genes somehow engineer 100 trillion neural connections in the brain—-enough points of information to store all the data and information contained in a fifty-million-volume encyclopedia.  And then after that, these fifty thousand genes set forth a million fibers in the optic nerves, retinae having ten million pixels per centimeter, some ten billion in all, ten thousand taste buds, ten million nerve endings for smell, cells that exude a chemical come-on to lure an embryo’s lengthening neurons from spinal cord to target cell, each one of the millions of target cells attracting the proper nerve from the particular needed function.  And all this three-dimensional structure arises somehow from the linear, one-dimensional information contained along the DNA helix. Did all this happen by chance or do you see the hand of God?

Today, many of us march for life, here in Washington, on the West Coast,  and in other communities. Today we ponder the great mystery that is expressed in the 139th psalm:

For it was you who created my being,  knit me together in my mother’s womb. I thank you for the wonder of my being…Already you knew my soul my body held no secret from you when I was being fashioned in secret….every one of my days was decreed before one of them came into being. To me, how mysterious your thoughts, the sum of them not to be numbered! (Psalm 139 varia)

No human being is an accident, no conception a surprise or inconvenience to God. Mysteriously he knew and loved us long before we were ever conceived, for he says, Before I ever formed you in the womb I knew you (Jer 1:4). And, as the psalm says above, God has always known everything we would ever do or be.

It is often mysterious to us why human life is, at times, conceived in difficult circumstances such as poverty, times of family struggle or crisis, or even conceived with disability and disadvantage. But in the end we see so very little and must ponder the mystery of God’s reminder that many who are “last” now are going to be first in the kingdom (e.g. Matt 20:16; Luke 1:52-53).

So today, many will march, and all are called to remember the sacred lives that have been lost. We acknowledge our loss, for the gifts of these children and their lives have been swept from us as well. We pray for women who struggle to bring children to term and experience pressure to consider abortion. We pray for the immediate and sudden conversion of all support legalized abortion for any reason and for a dedication to assist women facing any difficulty in giving birth to or raising their children.

The following video is a shortened version of the masterpiece video called “Genesis” by Ramos David. It magnificently depicts fetal development. I have taken the liberty of adding a different music track since this is a shortened version. The Music is William Byrd: Optimam Partem Elegit (She has Chosen the Best Part), a text most fitting since we pray all mothers will choose life. The full length video is found in higher definition on YouTube by searching under “Genesis Ramos David”

Why I will go to the March for Life

As a follow up to Msgr. Pope’s post “I have a dream about the Pro-Life March” I would like to offer my reason for going to downtown Washington on Monday.

In the Archdiocese of Washington virtually every deacon ordained in the past ten years or so spends one summer of their formation working in a crisis pregnancy center. Now, I don’t mind admitting that I did everything I could to avoid this requirement of formation. I was nervous about counseling women who were faced with an unexpected pregnancy. I was especially nervous because I knew I was trying to save two lives – the mother and her unborn child. I worried mostly that I would do something wrong and the stakes were too high to tolerate my inexperience or mistakes.

As it turns out, it was one of the most remarkable experiences of my formation.

Seeking the light.

Contrary to some popular misconceptions, most crisis pregnancy centers do not “bait and switch” women. In fact, the one at which I worked made it clear, before a client entered, that it did not counsel or refer for abortions. Some women read that statement a left without another question. Many however would respond, “I know; that is why I am here.”   I learned quickly that many of the women who came to the center had already suffered the trauma of an abortion and never wanted to experience that pain again.  They actually sought us out because we would counsel them toward healthier solutions to their unexpected pregnancy.

One life ended, another one harmed.

The harmful effects of an abortion on the unborn is obvious. It ends a life. But the effect on the mother often goes overlooked. In fact, many women are not warned by an abortionist about the potential emotional harm that comes from ending a life. My passion for the March for Life does not come from a personal experience or even a contrived political leaning. Rather, it comes from a desire to prevent the death of an unborn innocent AND the pain a procured abortion has on the mother.

Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you.” – Jeremiah 1:5

Before my ministry at the crisis pregnancy center, I never attended the March for Life.  I certainly embraced the teachings of our Church and supported the efforts of those who went but, the passion in my own heart was lacking. This Monday, I will be in downtown Washington. I will go to the Mass at the Verizon Center and I will pray in front of the Supreme Court. I will pray for the women I met, for their children and for those women and children who may become victims of abortion in the future. I also hope that many more of the faithful have their eyes opened to the pain abortion causes to its multiple victims.  And, I hope that someone reading this will join me for the first time in Washington on Monday.

Life is Worth Living: On the Strength and Resilience of the Human Person

One of the rights our modern age demands is the right to declare that certain lives are not worth living. In utero testing sometimes reveals the possibility or even the certainty of birth defects. Abortion is often recommended to mothers who carry “defective” children and sometimes that recommendation becomes pressure. It is said that almost 90% of families who receive a poor pre-natal diagnosis choose to abort.

And yet there are so many stories of people who have overcome enormous obstacles and who live full and rich lives. Some are missing limbs, others are blind, still others struggle with disease. Some have overcome poverty and injustice, others paralyzing accidents or great tragedies. And they are living witnesses to us that we ought never be the judge of what lives are worthwhile and what lives are “not worth”  living. It is true that none of us would wish to be born missing limbs, or blind or in poverty, or with chronic conditions. But we must reverence those who are, learn to appreciate their gifts, and summon them to courage and greatness.

We must declare with great certitude that there is no such thing as a life not worth living. We say this not as some politically correct slogan but rather with firm conviction that every human life is willed by God. We were willed before we were made for the Scriptures say, “Before I ever formed you in the womb I knew and I appointed you…” (Jer 1:4). None of us is an accident nor are our gifts and apparent deficits mistakes. We exist as we are, the way we are for a purpose, a purpose for us and for others. We all have an irreplaceable role in God’s kingdom and show forth aspect of His glory uniquely. Every human life is intended and is worth living because God says so by the very fact that we exist.

If this past week has taught us anything it is that the human person is sacred and that life is something worth living and worth fighting for. There was death, but there was also heroism. There are also those who, despite serious injury, have fought to come back and seek recovery. Further, there are those who join them in the medical profession and in their families who also struggle and fight to bring them that healing. This is resilience, this is strength, this is the truth that life is worth living.

The following videos show forth the resilience of the human person and give powerful witness to the fact that life is worth living. You may not have time to view them all now but I hope you’ll come back and see them all. That is why I post this over a weekend. Despite trials and setbacks all these individuals show forth the power and glory of God working though our human struggles. We might not choose the struggles they have for ourselves but we need to see that their lives are full and proclaim the dignity and resilience of the human person.

Here is the story of John Bramblitt who, though blind is a fine painter indeed.

Here is the story of Abby & Brittany, Conjoined twins born in 1990. The title of the video is “Joined for Life.” Abby says at the end of the video, “The best thing in the world about being conjoined twins is that there’s always someone to talk to and you’re never alone.”

Here’s the story of Nick Vujicic a man with no arms or legs who is a motivational speaker. He likes to say that he went from having a life without limbs to a life without limits.

I have posted this video of Patrick Henry Hughes before. Blind and crippled from birth he manifests a profound musical ability.

The Conversion of the World Begins with Me. A Pastor’s Reflection On A Brutal Weekend

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 ArizonaThe 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 ThreatAnd 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).

It’s a Wonder-filled Life. A Meditation on the Mystery of Our Life

Most of you have seen the movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life.”  More on that in a moment. But for now, the word “wonderful” is most commonly understood by most people simply to mean “really great.” But the word “wonderful” actually means “filled with wonder.”

Who  of us can understand the incredible mystery of our own life? And not merely considered in itself, but also how it interacts with the lives of others and the events of this world? Why are we here now? Why do we meet and know the people we do? How does our life affect others, not just in the obvious ways but also the hidden ways unknown to us?

Imagine that one day you stayed late at work one day rather than take the commuter bus. Your open seat caused two people to meet who later married, had three children, one of whom will discover the cure for cancer. This is something you will never know, but God does. Maybe another day you drove a little slower than the driver in back of you wished, but your slower pace meant that your irritated tailgater was not in an intersection at just the moment he would have been killed in a horrible accident had he kept his pace. I know you may think these to be trivial examples but consider the mystery of each moment and all the “alternate universes” that would result if even a small change took place in our actions!

Our lives are mysteriously intertwined. We have almost no idea how even the little things we do cause enormous ripples and chain reactions that affect dozens, hundreds or thousands of people from moment to moment. What if I never wrote this post and you never read it but instead were reading something else right now, (good, or bad). The possibilities are almost endless as to what might happen had I not written and you not read.

God has us here in this place at this time for a reason. We have some very particular purposes in his plan and he alone knows them all. Try for a moment to appreciate your dignity in this regard. You have a critical role in a cascade of events that ripple from your life and your place in God’s plan. No one can take that place and your role is critical to millions of subsequent transactions in God’s wonderful vision.  Psalm 139 has this to say:

O LORD, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise;  you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue  you know it completely, O LORD.  Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,  too lofty for me to attain. 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. All my days  were written in your book  before one of them came to be. (Selected verses).

 The movie “It’s a Wonderful Life” is an extended meditation on this topic and if,  for some strange reason,  you have not seen it then you know what you must do! The protagonist of the movie “George” seeks to end his life and wishes he had never been born but an angel from heaven takes him through the strange and sad “alternate universe” that would result had he never been here. It is a world of terrifying loss for many and George comes to discover the dignity and necessity of his life in God’s plan.

In God’s vision no one can be said to be unnecessary or of limited importance. We have absolutely no way of knowing that and given the intricacies of human interaction and the ripple effects thereof we are pretty foolish for thinking we have little importance. Rather, it seems we are quite essential.

Enjoy this summary of the Movie “It’s a Wonderful Life” and remember that “wonderful” means “filled with wonder (and awe).”

UPDATED – Illustrating an Atrocity By Acting Atrociously – A Chilling Website Approaches It’s Horrifying Deadline

SEE UPDATE AT BOTTOM –  You may have heard that there is terrifying site out on the Internet called Birth or Not.  A couple that is expecting a child is pondering whether to keep the baby or abort him. They want you to vote, claiming that your vote will influence their final decision. In 15 days (Dec 3) they will make their decision. Why Dec 3? Because that is the “last day [they] can legally get an abortion in [their] state.”

This is a very shocking site for many reasons. First, if they abort it will be a late term abortion. Secondly, there is a seemingly cold calculation in their decision to abort. They are spending time, getting to know the baby, looking at ultrasounds, consulting family and friends, etc. as though this were all a leisurely decision. Of course no way of deciding on a abortion is good or better than another but at least it is more understandable when the decision comes under duress, or pressure. But this whole process is chilling as they casually read pamphlets, look at ultrasounds and ponder as they sip tea.  Here are some quotes from their website:

  1. Voting is such an integral part of the American identity.  We vote on everything.  We vote on things ranging from the best singer on American Idol to who the next leader of the free world will be.  Wouldn’t it be nice to voice your opinion and have it actually make a difference in the real world?  Why not vote on whether to continue or abort an actual pregnancy? Your vote can help a real couple to make a decision on this issue….We would like to keep you informed on our pregnancy as if it was your own; posting our thoughts and feelings as we struggle to make this decision.  We would like you to see what we see and feel what we feel.  We invite you take this journey with us as we contemplate our own options and encourage you to utilize this site to vote and voice your opinion in a way that will have a real consequence… in a way that truly matters.  Here, your vote will not go unheard.
  2. “Mom” says:  I went in for my weekly check up and the baby’s heartbeat was at 160 bpm and “Wiggles” continues to develop as expected.  The baby was turning around a lot and waving arms (and hands) at us….. the baby’s skeleton is hardening and accumulating fat around it.  Baby “Wiggles” is also developing unique fingerprints this week.
  3. ….your comments are appreciated.  Though there are indeed many hateful.  For every ten comments that are negative or spiteful there is one that is positive enough to blow them out of the water.  We have even had multiple people (accounting for approximately 6% of those who have sent us a message) who have offered to adopt if the vote result is Abort.
  4. When the vote closes, we will be reviewing the data, and making it all public.  When the vote closes, you will know all that we do… as we discover it together.  Until then, it looks like we might have something we see typically with voting:  An unknown result until the end.

IMPORTANT: On last Friday the vote was that over 80% wanted them to keep the baby, 20% said abort. By today the vote had dramatically shifted. Over 70% now say abort. Further, over 1 million votes have been cast.

Now you know you’d better get over there and cast a pro-life vote.

Indeed this whole thing of course is chilling and sickening. It is so atrocious that I can’t actually think they are seriously considering abortion at this point. It leads me to think that they are illustrating an atrocity by acting atrociously. As its deadly clock ticks away to December 3 (Feast Day of St. Francis Xavier – St. Francis, Pray for us!) we are all led into the gruesome reality of what abortion is. A child many of us have come to know, may be scheduled to die December 3. Abortion in this case, and a late term abortion at that, is no abstraction here. A real couple, with a real baby are (at least purportedly) considering aborting him. This couple has either successfully made abortion something very real for millions, or is one of the coldest couples on the planet. And we just don’t know for sure. I am holding out hope, even the likelihood, that they are really pro-life and are trying to make abortion something less abstract and more real for many. Of course the pro-choicers would call that a stunt. But this couple insists quite credibly that they really ARE undecided. It’s all very unsettling, chilling and frightening.

Please visit this site and cast a pro-life vote. Further send a note to the couple. But keep it positive, promise prayers….and really do pray! I personally can’t tell what this couple will do,  if this is real or just a “stunt.” I really do hope in the end that it is an attempt on their part to illustrate atrocity by acting atrociously, to draw us into to true horror of abortion. But just pray….pray! (And vote here: http://www.birthornot.com/)

 UPDATE– According to LifeSite News (HERE– Hat tip to Diane at Te Deum Laudamus) the Husband today admitted that the site is a hoax and that they never really intended to abort. You can read the article by clicking “HERE” in the line above.  I am still not sure of the couple’s actual intent from the article. I had hoped they were illustrating an atrocity by acting atrociously in the sense that they were trying to illustrate how shocking abortion really is by their act and that they were not really intending to kill the Child. This may be the case. But the article isn’t really that clear.  No matter, the whole thing is duplicitous and should never have been done. It is not right to lie in this manner even if the intent is good. In a little twist of justice, the wife lost her job yesterday since the company said she was gravely endangering their reputation. Perhaps that is why the husband fessed up today?