There is no way to end abortion short of changing the way we love and live. Without addressing abortion as a corruption of how we love, the greatest legal victory is a sand castle on a beach before the tide comes in. The tide will win no matter how large the sand castle, or how well it is constructed. The solution is not to build castles at all but to become the tide itself. Only through lives changed can abortion become the sand castle and love the tide.
In viewing abortion as a problem solved by legislation the pro-life movement plays defense on an opponent’s field. A playing field that separates abortion from sexual behavior handicaps the pro-life advocate. By treating the problem as political the tactics he uses ultimately transform him into the one he opposes. In protesting and persuading he assumes the character of his pro-abortion opponent. After all, both care fervently about their cause. Both proclaim their advocacy of mother and child. Both return home at day’s end morally righteous. And, between one rally and another, both live lives unchallenged and unchanged. To wear the pro-life badge and separate abortion from sexual behavior is to mistake public compassion for private commitment, confuse caring with a lever pulled in the voting booth, and substitute feelings of righteousness for change in one’s own life. The pro-life advocate becomes the one he opposes. The game is lost before it begins.
An authentic pro-life movement cannot disregard how lives are lived each day. In loving the child conceived, but ignoring the manner and conditions in which it was conceived, we fail to appreciate the cultural conditions that make abortion possible. Abortion is the natural consequence of a corrupted sexuality. If we fail to see our lives are part of the solution, we will remain part of the problem. To be pro-life means living counter-cultural lives every day. If we do not find ourselves challenged in our own lives, how different are we from the pro-choice advocate? If we do not respect the act that creates life, we have already devalued that life. We have lost the moral standing to treat abortion as an unnatural end to a life we have already deemed unworthy.
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Being pro-life begins with the personal and not the political. It begins with the power of lives lived chastely. To reverence life and not reverence the act that creates life is a contradiction. The beauty of sex is not in transient pleasure but creation. The glow of consummation bears no comparison to the luminous joy of a child born into love. Absent that love a child begins life in darkness and despair. In choosing the chaste life we dedicate our lives to joyful beginnings and strive against the darkness of lives begun without love. Chastity is reverence for life extended to the act that creates that life. The call to chastity acknowledges life from its nascent beginnings in sexual desire on through conception. It acknowledges that the child’s most basic need is to be loved by a mother and father united in love. In leading a chaste life we love not only the child that may someday be ours but all children yet born. In respecting the creative nature of all that we meet we love all mothers, all fathers, and all future children. Living chastely is simply the love and respect we give to ourselves and others as creators of life.
Chastity, however, is hard to live. It cannot be delegated, set aside with anti-abortion signs, or walked away from at the end of the day. The chaste life challenges everyone, whether married or single. It challenges us every single day from the moment we wake to the moment we fall asleep. It demands our constant attention. How do we look at other people? How do we interact with them? If we are married, how do we see our spouses? How do we avoid the suggestive conversation and promote the wholesome one? What do we wear? What links do we click on the Internet? What do we watch on TV or at the cinema? What thoughts run rampant in our minds? These questions challenge us to see our lives differently, to see the true costs of pleasures we prefer to perceive as innocent. They challenge the idea that in the privacy of our homes and our minds we hurt no one. They confront us with the proposition that love is a full-time endeavor and not a part-time interest. Ultimately, they ask us to place the interests of a life we do not know above our own.
The chaste life is difficult even in times when it is valued. But today’s culture makes the difficult seem impossible. The pornographic tastes of the modern world assault us daily with coarse words, titillating images, and lurid stories. This barrage seduces our senses, encourages us to indulge in selfish desire, and ignores the toll on tomorrow’s child. Its message corrupts sexuality, mocks chastity, and ridicules self-denial. When sensuality reigns chastity is no longer a moral standard to be observed but rebellion against a culture centered on self.
Fighting for Chastity—a Gift of Self
For the sake of life and love, it is a rebellion we must join. A successful rebellion, however, requires we engage on our terms and not those of the enemy. When we see chastity as denial we buy into the enemy’s agenda. It becomes a perpetual fast, a deprivation of something others have. To engage on such terms centers attention on ourselves, and it is the focus on self that is the very enemy we fight. Only in seeing the child yet born can we see beyond ourselves and see every chaste act not as a loss to ourselves but as a gift given to that child’s tomorrow. It is not in denial that we become lovers but in giving ourselves freely to others. Chastity based on denial shrivels and embitters. Chastity based on a gift given expands and frees us to love. In living chastely we vest our lives in the venture of assuring every child is born into the love of a man and woman united as one. Every child becomes our child. Every child born into love becomes our joy. Chastity is more, not less.
Because it is more it requires more of us. With even the best efforts, however, those who choose chastity will often fail repeatedly. But to continue striving is success itself. An ideal poorly lived is gold next to an ideal rejected, which is nothing at all. Every failure teaches us humility. Only with this humility can we truly see and love others in a struggle we all share. But if the ideal is rejected and its pursuit dismissed, as corrupted sexuality has done with chastity, there remains neither room to fail nor to grow. In dismissing the challenge we dismiss the rewards. We don’t learn forgiveness because there is nothing to forgive. We don’t learn humility because we have done nothing wrong. We don’t learn to give because nothing is asked. In brief, we don’t learn to love.
Love is intrinsic in true sexuality. Chastity is simply a sexuality lived where that love is observed. Anything less is a corruption of both sexuality and love. The Sexual Revolution was not a revolution to transform sexuality. It was an attack on sexuality itself, a massive assault on human nature that sought the destruction of the very idea of sexuality. Abortions, broken families, genders multiplied without meaning, and marriages without a biological possibility of real union are not a progressive evolution but an abolition of sexuality. They are the absolute rejection of sexuality’s very meaning and its replacement with an empty nothingness. Those of us who have embraced this “revolution” have chosen not to see the destruction it wreaks.
Whether we choose to see or not, it will consume us if we choose to do nothing. In submitting to the destruction of sexuality we submit to the destruction of love. Like no other part of our biology, our sexuality teaches us not only how to love those closest to us but how to love those whose lives are so distant they have yet to begin. The two cannot be separated because they are a single love. Sexuality removed from its creative purpose is no longer sexuality but its corruption. In submitting to the destruction of our sexuality, we submit to the destruction of love. In submitting to love’s destruction, we submit to life’s destruction. We cannot choose to look the other way and call ourselves pro-life.
How do we counter a revolution whose victory seems imminent? The required defense is not the ballot box but an insurgency that begins with truth spoken and truth lived within each of us. The Catholic Church has all that we need. The Church is love’s repository. Its very purpose is to cut through darkness and show us the beauty of that love. In bearing light on the beauty of love the Church leads us to love’s source. In rendering visible to us the beauty of our sexuality she helps us see anew the rules we incorrectly perceived as shackles. Seen in proper light they become stairs aiding our ascent to the ultimate beauty of God. In hearing, seeing, and living this truth in chaste lives we join the rebellion against the corruption of sexuality and the destruction of love.
Church Has Been Silent for Too Long
However, the beauty of our sexuality must be taught, especially in a world bent on its destruction. Sadly, many Catholics we meet in the pews every Sunday have not been taught the beauty of human sexuality. In fact, the Church has failed to talk about it at all. We bristle and protest over attacks to our religious freedom, attacks rooted in the demands of sexuality gone awry. We refuse, however, to confront the ugliness of broken sexuality with the beauty of true sexuality. Both pastor and parishioner stand silently before a false sexuality that destroys the love and life of their own community. Week after week and year after year, homilies are preached entreating us to ask the Holy Spirit for guidance, yet no words are spoken regarding the guidance of the Church on sexuality. Doesn’t the Holy Spirit we invite into our own lives guide the Catholic Church? Can’t we see the beauty in teachings that reverence the unborn child by including him or her not only in every marital act but in how we live our lives day to day? Can’t we see Church teachings on chastity as inspired by love? Can’t we see the beauty of a life lived for the child we don’t know? Can’t we see the beauty in participating everyday in the miracle of a child born into love?
To be pro-life and walk away from Church teachings on sexuality amounts to surrender before a “revolution” against life itself. When church leaders and teachers confuse pastoral care with eyes diverted from a people drowning in false caring they choose to look away from an enemy bent on love’s destruction. To then point to the voting booth as a panacea for a society losing love with every abortion is to confuse love restored with love imposed. But love cannot be imposed. It can only be offered and freely chosen. We know the way to success, because the Church knows the way. It begins with the beauty of a chaste life. It begins with a church that uses every pulpit to help us see and choose that beauty. It begins with forgiveness, not forgetfulness. And it begins with the humility of a people humbled and seeking guidance.
Without challenging and changing the way we love, the problem of abortion will not be solved in any court or legislature. The battleground is not the voting booth, but the lives we live. In living chastely we vote for life everyday. But to meet the challenge of chastity we must see our sexuality as something whose beauty is much bigger than us, as something intrinsic to how we love, and as something we hold in trust for another. Only when we see and live the unity of sexuality, love and life, only then will we be truly pro-life. Only then will we be the tide and abortion be the sand castle.