Joseph Pronechen is staff writer with the National Catholic Register since 2005. His articles have appeared in a number of national publications including Columbia magazine, Soul, Faith and Family, Catholic Digest, and Marian Helper. His religion features have also appeared in Fairfield County Catholic and in one of Connecticut’s largest news dailies. He holds an MS degree and formerly taught English and courses in film study that he developed at a Catholic high school in Connecticut. Joseph and his wife Mary reside on the East Coast.
This won’t be easy for some people, but Pro-Life Action League’s 2016 Lenten Prayer Challenge is a real challenge. And it’s one that people can tackle right from their own home.
To find out what the challenge is about, and why it started, I had a conversation with Eric Scheidler, the executive director of the Pro-Life Action League based in Chicago.
“We’ve been asking people for many years to pray for abortion workers as a regular Lenten thing,” Scheidler began. First, he reminded that it’s especially appropriate because Lent is a season when each of us is called to recognizing our own sinfulness and attachment to the world and realize our deep need for grace. We pray, we fast, and we see things like “how much our fingers are clenched around our wealth and how we prioritize material things.”
Okay. So we’re focused on our own need for God’s transforming grace. “And that, says Eric, “positions us to appreciate the need others have for that grace — especially those who are very far from any kind of life and relationship with God.”
Now here’s where the big challenge and obstacle course comes in. But before naming the challenge, Scheidler reminded, “All of us who are pro-life — and especially involved directly in the pro-life moment and doing what we can to fight abortion — we have a special responsibility to pray for those involved directly in abortion. So we been asking people many years to pray for abortion workers.”
But the prayer campaign’s challenge this Lent is taking it further into the battlefield, right to the upper ranks. Praying every day for three specific, named individuals.
“We try to pray for them in a special way and fast for them during Lent,” Scheidler said.
Last year this Pro-Life Action Campaign Challenge prayed for three male abortionists who committed horrendous crimes — two are imprisoned, one is awaiting sentencing. One was Kermit Gosnell. That’s right.
Scheidler listed three females as this year’s top three to offer daily prayers and fast for: Planned Parenthood’s Deborah Nucatola, Mary Gatter, and Cecile Richards.
Before you get hot under the collar, let’s hear more. IN fact, you can hear Scheidler also explain and give a video invitation on the Pro-Life Action League website and on YouTube. There is also a Facebook meme posting.
This year it seemed to make sense to focus on those whose horrors we see in the Center for Medical Progress videos, Scheidler stressed. He ticked off the names: We’re asking for prayers for Deborah Nucatola who was talking about harvesting body parts while munching on her salad and sipping wine; Mary Gatter who joked she wanted a Lamborghini from the profits selling aborted babies’ body parts; and Cecile Richards herself, the woman behind it all who runs Planned Parenthood and felt Planned Parenthood had done nothing wrong. He underlined the coldness of heart.
“People could not believe what they said,” asserted Scheidler. “Again, it’s just betraying a heartlessness that’s hard to battle.”
Looking at this challenge’s way to meet the horror — and he ticked off several more synonyms for it — Scheidler headed immediate objections off at the pass.
“It’s easy to be angry at these women and express outrage,” he said. Then he described how when we step back in this Lenten spirit of repentance and look at and see what abortion has done to those who are right there in the thick of it — like poking through body parts, recognizing the gender of the baby, and exclaiming it’s a boy — “to think how abortion has corrupted their hearts, how twisted they are, how pleased the devil is to have been able to twist their lives, how they turned their backs on God…and they have been consorting with horrific evil,” then we can see “they desperately need our prayers.”
Some might still not be convinced about this prayer campaign.
Okay. Scheidler has more to say. “If the only response we have is anger or hatred, we’re not acting with the heart of God or the Holy Spirit,” he pointed out. “He commanded us to pray for our enemies [‘Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you’ (Matthew 5:44)]. If they’re enemies, we learn to love them. It’s very difficult to hate somebody you’re praying for. Praying for someone opens your heart to them.”
Scheidler doesn’t gloss over the fact this is not easy. In fact, he said that last year when the Pro-Life action League asked people to pray for the three criminal abortionists, people were angry. It was hard for a lot to get past the crime. Yet some people did pray, begrudgingly.
But even that prayer somehow helped.
“Whoever prayed a perfect prayer? Only His Mother,” Scheidler said. “All our prayers are imperfect.”
He answered even more objections.
“I would say none of us wants to see God’s justice,” he explained. “The psalms are crystal clear about this. Nobody could stand up to the justice of God. If we don’t know that, we’re not looking into our hearts.”
Then he brought out even more. He reminded how in the Divine Mercy chaplet we pray, “For the sake of his sorrowful passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world.”
And in the Fatima prayer at the end of each decade of the Rosary, we pray, “…save us from the fires of hell and lead all souls to heaven, especially those in most need of thy mercy.”
Now, he asked, “When we pray that, do we mean it?”
The words “whole” and “all” certainly encompass those most in need of prayer, the committers of horror included.
“If someone has a hard time, I sympathize with that,” Scheidler went on to say. “But I still do say, Pray for these people who desperately need prayers. That will help you too.” Besides, if you can pray for these three abortion proponents, these three women, “you can certainly pray for the abortionists at your local facility and the staff or whoever else is in there.”
He stressed, “Fasting is a critical part of this. We tell people to fast from one special meal a week. It’s lunch on Wednesday for me.” Fasting reminds your soul to lift these people in prayer, he said.
Scheidler sees this as part of God’s plan. “He puts enemies in our path so we can pray for them — not so we can be mad at them, but so we can pray for them. I’m starting with myself on all that.”