The Small Choices Come First

U.S. bishops never seem to realize that abortion is the last, huge sin in a long line of smaller ones.

U.S. bishops never seem to realize that abortion is the last, huge sin in a long line of smaller ones—which is why their ostensible satisfaction over this summer’s Dobbs decision rings hollow months later. 

Nonetheless, the Church—particularly at the parish level—still has a crucial role to play, even if it’s one it has abandoned for decades. 

With the return of abortion regulation to the states, the life issue continues to play out in smaller settings. But that is really where it has been all along. 

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“The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either—but right through every human heart—and through all human hearts,” wrote novelist and Russian dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn. “This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years.” 

That’s the abortion issue in a nutshell. It manifests in the skirmishes of seemingly small choices in each life that lead to a frightened, lonely girl who faces a decision that seems to have no easy choice. Sin is like that—it lulls a person along in a crowd and abandons her when the consequences are too big to escape.

But if the arena is the human heart, then the Church should enjoy homefield advantage because, as Pope St. John Paul II said, God’s moral law is inscribed there, “valid and current in every time and place.”

That lonely girl’s battles were fought in her heart, and with the forming of her imagination, well before her unplanned pregnancy, as she went along with the crowd, seemingly befriended but really alone. 

Was the Church “accompanying” her—or the boy who was to become the father of her unborn child?

It should have been, because that was the time for the Church and those children’s families to plant the simple seeds that would blossom into the mature morality of young adults, confident in their faith and in themselves, unbothered by the “choice issue” because they would never be in the position of having to choose. They would have bigger, more joyful things to contemplate, unencumbered by the foolishness of the corporate-manufactured pop culture.

That was the time for the Church to step forward, knowing, as it has known for centuries, that God’s life-giving law is not taught but absorbed and experienced as a way of life that allows one to have a personal relationship with Truth Himself. 

Those young people needed faithful adults to provide guide rails, good books to fill their imaginations, decent friends and proper sweethearts similarly raised. 

They needed a Church with the audacity and imagination to show them that its moral teaching is not just a set of rules and prohibitions followed by people of a certain culture. Rather, it is integral to authentic joy in this life for everyone. 

Instead, in the “Spirit of Vatican II,” the Church invited “the world” to form its children. That’s where the Church was and, infuriatingly enough, still is—tolerating and welcoming its way into oblivion while its children live as weaponless sheep slaughtered by the wolves of the culture.

That girl with the unplanned pregnancy is the thousands of little girls even today—some at Mass on Sundays—waiting to hear the simple stories that will help keep her on the right path. 

Most pew sitters ruefully understand that the typical clergyman is far too timid to preach on abortion—or that when he does it’s an island, usually desolate, in a sea of Sunday banalities. But these priests of Jesus Christ can resist the cultural juggernaut of sexual disorder without even addressing any hot-button issue directly. They have the tools at their disposal.

Imagine if, from time to time,—maybe a couple of times a year—priests delivered homilies on the virtues, like modesty or chastity—not simply positing them but illuminating them, speaking to the heart and giving children a sense of dignity that will help them discern right from wrong. 

The point is that such virtues apply to simple but portentous choices and habits at a time when parents and priests can still make a lasting impression on children. 

A young person who has absorbed the virtue of modesty (defined by the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist as “purity of heart in action, especially in regards to dress and speech”), will be more likely to make good gateway choices on clothing, music, and books; and he or she will be circumspect when around others who make poor choices. 

Or, imagine if homilies addressed the romance of marriage, or the challenges and rewards of family life, demonstrating that chastity is part of those bedrock institutions. 

Imagine if priests preached on fidelity, telling young people that love is only a small part emotion, which ebbs and flows, and more an act of the will. What if priests, and the very atmospheres of parishes, captured the imagination of the young with messaging on being faithful to one’s spouse even before meeting him or her?

What if parishes put time and treasure into forming youth and young adult groups, where men and women could meet apart from the smarminess of the secular culture, even gathering in groups for Eucharistic Adoration to dream about their futures in the presence of the Almighty?

All that would take a lot of work by priests willing to roll up their sleeves and get the “smell of the sheep” on them. But down the road it would mean fewer people contemplating abortion because more pregnancies would be within marriages in which the spouses welcome children as blessings. 

The law would be much less consequential. It wouldn’t even need to be mentioned. 

  • Matthew Meritt

    After working as a small-town newspaper reporter, Matthew Meritt moved to Tokyo, where he continued his writing work for a time. He now lives in upstate New York with his wife and two sons, trying his best to keep up his community publication, The Chemung Valley Echo Blog.

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