There is an elderly man in our parish whose self-appointed mission during Mass is to angrily harass any parent who dares to linger in the apse of the church for a second after his or her child begins to fuss. It’s discouraging to see this sort of behavior in a parish with so many small children who are so unusually well-behaved. Ours is not a church where parents inconsiderately allow their children to lay under the pews, talk loudly, or throw cheerios. Any misbehavior is dealt with promptly and efficiently by conscientious mothers and fathers, and noisy children are quickly ushered out the back of the church.
One Sunday, when my wife and I were subjected to this tyrant’s scorn, another parent leaned in and whispered, "And he’s the head of our parish pro-life committee." If true, maybe no one ever informed him that the background noise of fussing babies, children pointing out in too-loud voices ("That’s Jesus mommy! That’s Mary!") and yes, even the Doppler effect provided by a screaming toddler being whisked away from the apse, is what an actually pro-life parish sounds like. Total silence is found only in the monastery or the tomb.
This raises an important question: What does being pro-life mean to us and how should it make us act? Is it simply a political philosophy or a cause for activism? Does it influence the way we live or is it just something to which we pay lip service?
I recently moved my family into a new house, much closer to the city. After we settled in, I began noticing on my daily commute that there were abortion protestors outside an office building just around the corner. I stopped by one day and when I asked the name of the facility, one of the group deadpanned (quite seriously): "Some call it the ‘Slaughterhouse.’ Some call it the ‘Whorehouse of Death’."
He then launched, unsolicited, into a story about how a clinic shut down in Cleveland had been filled with witchcraft paraphernalia, finishing with a supposition that they were "probably worshipping Satan or something."
I have great admiration and respect for those who give generously of their time to pray in front of abortion clinics or volunteer on pro-life committees, but is this the sort of impression we want the world to have of pro-lifers — that we’re so angry that we lack basic tact, charity, and common sense?
Americans have been stuck with legalized abortion for so long that I’m beginning to think we’ve lost our sense of direction. We recognize, on the one hand, that our nation is perpetuating an atrocity that makes the gulags of Stalin and the concentration camps of Hitler pale in comparison. On the other hand, we feel powerless to do anything about it, and so are compelled to go on with our daily lives as though everything is normal. This state of perpetual tension cannot be sustained; maybe it’s no surprise that it drives some of us to the brink of madness — or at least to the abandonment of good sense.
It is also perhaps the reason why we spend so much time and energy looking for political solutions to the crisis — because it makes us feel as though we’re accomplishing something. Of course, the unfortunate fact is that lasting political solutions will never be had until we begin winning victories in the culture war. In a country where the majority of citizens believe that abortion in some form should be legal, pinning all our hopes on a presidential election or Supreme Court nomination is an exercise in extreme wishful thinking. We need to win converts and forge friendships with those who disagree with us and must find ways to effectively persuade our opponents. Hoping to simply change the law skirts the issue — ending abortion will require winning the battle for hearts and minds long before we can expect to make true progress at the ballot box.
I had a conversation recently with a husband and father of five who has spent most of the past decade working in politics. He shared an insight which I found tremendously sensible:
The best way for me to be pro-life isn’t to be an activist, but to devote as much effort as I can to being the best father I can to my children. It’s when my wife takes the kids to the grocery store and faces down the nasty stares. If we’re going to have any hope, it’s going to be our children. They’re the ones who will have a chance to be the leaven. It’s our job to build the foundation.
We need activists and we need politics, but even more than that, we need strong families — families to serve as examples of the beauty of life and the goodness of God’s plan. We each have a role to play in fighting that battle. For some of us, that involves simply living out the marital, parental vocation.
The most effective warriors for life are those who haven’t lost sight of what being pro-life really means: loving and welcoming children into our families, even though it entails sacrifice; being supportive of others who have children, rather than wishing they’d go somewhere else for Mass; and speaking charitably to (and about) our enemies, and remembering to pray for them.
If we’re going to win this fight, we must be personal examples of the pro-life culture, even if we’ve never seen the sidewalk outside an abortion clinic.