I happened to hear Bishop Sheen’s talk on confession the other day – on the same day when hundreds of thousands of people were standing up to be counted in support of the protection of life from conception to natural death at the March for Life in Washington, DC. And although I was not with them in body, I was with them in prayer and spirit.
The issue of abortion is tricky, isn’t it? I’m not talking about the actual ethics and morality of abortion, because if science can prove that life begins at conception (which it does) then abortion is infanticide (which it is). No, I’m talking about the spiritual side of the abortion issue.
Let me explain. Last year we took a busload of students to a rally calling for our government to stop using our tax dollars to fund abortions in Ontario. As I stood there quietly praying with a few hundred others, I was amazed at the sheer rage that faced me on the opposite side of the street.
The women (and men) on the “other” side were spitting mad, venomous, screaming slurs of all kinds – and there we stood, silent and praying and absorbing. Ok, maybe there was the occasional shout from the rowdy pro-life teenager (who’d been strictly instructed to keep their mouth closed and pray) but other than that, one side of the street was almost entirely silent. Taking in this whole surreal scene made me stop and think about what I was witnessing. The women standing across from me had lives, families, they deeply love and care about others – so what gives? Why such an intense and hostile reaction to those in silent prayer?
It was as Bishop Sheen foretold. He knew that there would come a time when the women who had been pierced by the atrocity of abortion (and who subsequently suppressed the anguish that goes with it) would find their minds and souls shattered from the experience. I could see it. I could hear it. The issue of abortion is tricky because although it might seem straightforward and clear-cut (stopping abortion from being legal = no abortions) it really isn’t. This fight is, first and foremost, profoundly spiritual, and utterly personal.
I will grant you that some of our society say they are pro-abortion solely on intellectual grounds and can be debated in and out of their ideology, but on that day, in that moment, I knew with every fiber of my being that these women were raging and screaming out of their transparent and unadulterated pain. Maybe they’ve had abortions, maybe they know someone who has – but it seemed to me that, somewhere, somehow each one of them had been deeply wounded by this scourge. It reminded me of the time I was a teenager standing in the Life Chain and a woman approached me spitting out the words “I would have wanted my mother to abort me – just as long as she had the choice.” Those weren’t happy, loving words from a happy, loving woman. They were words of deep and wretched self-loathing. I suspected that woman, in that moment, would not have responded to discussions about when life begins and how we know a baby is human before it’s born. I could tell that she wasn’t in that space. She was in desperate need of deep spiritual and psychological healing.
And isn’t that what we as Catholic Christians are called to do? Be light and salt to a broken world? Sometimes that means stepping out into uncomfortable territory to orient the hearts of those around us to the plight of the unborn by discussion and debate, but most of all it means we must pray – all the time, in all places – for every person who has been broken and devastated by abortion, like that poor woman. We women have special places built-in to our hearts particularly for the lost, the forsaken, the lowly, hurting and small – and the world is in dire need of that compassion and empathy.
Because right now, there is a woman with an abortion scheduled for tomorrow morning who’s touching her belly….wondering. And there’s a childless mother contemplating suicide – the emptiness consuming her. And there’s a young man pressuring his girlfriend to “take care of the problem”. This is what I mean by the battle being personal. We all can and must pray specifically for these people and fight for them and their little ones whenever and wherever we can. Prayer isn’t our last resort, it’s our first resort. It moves mountains – literally and figuratively – especially the mountains contained within the human heart. And those mountains, only God can move.