When I am asked what I think our first spiritual duty is regarding abortion, I have an answer that surprises most people. Many think I will suggest that prayer is our first spiritual duty. And of course prayer is important. But our very first spiritual duty is repentance.

The first step in abolishing abortion is to examine our own hearts and to repent of the role we each have played in allowing this holocaust to happen.

This is never easy, but with God’s grace it can be done. Advent gives us a perfect time to begin.

In Advent, which means “coming,” we focus on the coming of Christ at the end of time, and then on His first coming at Christmas. Advent is marked by the joy of His coming, but also by the strong warning that we must be prepared for it, as individuals and as a community.

John the Baptizer prepared the people for the coming of Christ by proclaiming repentance, so the Church prepares the world for His second coming by likewise proclaiming, and opening the way, for repentance.

The third chapter of Matthew’s Gospel begins: “In those days, John the Baptist came, preaching in the desert of Judea and saying ‘repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.’ This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah: A voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’”

Christ’s coming ushers in the final triumph of life over death. The preparation for that coming, therefore, must include repentance from the works of death, including abortion. This repentance includes living with active respect for every human life, and building a society of justice and welcome for the most vulnerable.

We can begin repentance for abortion by renouncing our cowardice, regretting our silence, rejecting our fear of risk and loss, our skewed priorities and attachments. We must own up to the fact that the biggest obstacles in ending abortion are inside of us. They are the lies we tell ourselves, the fears to which we willingly submit, and the pretense of ignorance about what we really have to do next.

Often, when people seek advice about pro-life activity, they ask me what they should do next. I start by telling them that they probably already know. Our sense of uncertainty rarely arises from not knowing what we should do. It arises from not having the courage to do it. We count the cost and don’t want to pay the price. But it is time to take the risk, time to stand up and shout that the world is on fire. It is time to pull the fire alarm and join in the fight.

Promoting justice and human rights is a key element of our Advent preparation. A society that aborts its children is not prepared for the coming of Christ. Individuals who ignore the massive slaughter of tens of millions of babies are not prepared to welcome the God who became a little baby.

Nor are they prepared to welcome the gifts the baby brings. To welcome Christ is to welcome the one who teaches the Gospels, establishes His Church, and brings us the Eucharist and the other sacraments. Some want to welcome Christ only by welcoming the baby, but not staying around long enough to hear what he has to say or receive what he comes to bring.

Advent repentance means we are to accept the teachings of the Church that the newborn infant founded as an adult; utilize the sacrament of penance to receive His forgiveness; accept the grace that enables us to repent of sin; receive Him in the Eucharist faithfully, and let Him work through us to build a society of justice and a culture of life.

And remember: As we repent for our past failures to act, we will come to understand that God will both forgive our failures and enable our victories.