St. John Paul II Prepared Us For This Pro-Life Moment
As the Center for Medical Progress continues to unveil evidence of the nefarious practices of America’s leading provider of abortion ‘services,’ it can be difficult to maintain composure. Like Christ himself, we might feel the urge to overturn tables.
But, we need to radiate peace. As Pope St. John Paul II wrote in his book, Crossing the Threshold of Hope, “Do not abandon yourselves to despair. We are the Easter people and ‘Hallelujah’ is our song.” We win this battle in the culture wars by letting the joy and peace of Easter overcome the darkness of Planned Parenthood.
In his 2013 Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis gave us four principles to defuse the culture of death with the Joy of the Gospel.
First, privilege time over space.
Pope Francis said that “This principle enables us to work slowly but surely, without being obsessed with immediate results. It helps us patiently to endure difficult and adverse situations … It invites us to accept the tension between fullness and limitation” (EG, n. 223).
We have to become comfortable with the idea that we are not going to win the cause for life in a single sitting. This is going to be a long drawn-out debate about abortion, federal funding for CASC (contraception, abortion, sterilization, and counseling) ‘services,’ and the track record of Margaret Sanger’s Planned Parenthood. Patience is imperative here. Rome wasn’t built in a day. The culture of life and the civilization of love won’t be, either.
In the thick of heated debate, it is so important to keep in mind that we need to keep lines of communication open so that the discussion can continue to unfold over time. We keep them open when we remain calm, refusing to resort to yelling.
Second, prefer unity over conflict. As Pope Francis writes, “Conflict cannot be ignored or concealed. It has to be faced. But if we remain trapped in conflict, we lose our perspective, our horizons shrink and reality itself begins to fall apart. In the midst of conflict, we lose our sense of the profound unity of reality” (EG, n. 226).
Radiate the joy of the Gospel in difficult and tense discussions by capitalizing on what we have in common with our opponents. Build on what we share. We’ve all heard the saying, “you’ll attract a lot more bees with honey.”
Don’t neglect or paper over differences. Keep them out in front. But, draw in the opposition by offering them a bridge to crossover. No one wants to run toward fire. All of us enjoy a walk along a peaceful seashore.
Third, realities are more important than ideas. According to the Pope, “this principle impels us to put the word into practice, to perform works of justice and charity which make that word fruitful. Not to put the word into practice, not to make it reality, is to build on sand, to remain in the realm of pure ideas and to end up in a lifeless and unfruitful self-centeredness and Gnosticism” (EG, n. 233).
Being pro-life isn’t about espousing a theory. It is about taking up concrete plans of action to protect and defend life.
When my sister was pregnant with her first child and I had the opportunity to go with her to her first ultrasound, I saw the little baby on the monitor. I watched him yawn. Now that he’s six months old, I see him yawn in exactly the same way he did inside his mother’s womb. Life is a continuum and we all get that instinctively. When women show ultrasound pictures to their girlfriends, none of them says, “Here’s a picture of my fetus!” In our gut, all of us know the unborn life is a child.
If we stand with women and their unborn children, we’ll be motivated to pursue real plans of action, supporting women during crisis pregnancies or reaching out to underprivileged women in need of our assistance.
Fourth, prefer wholes over parts. Pope Francis teaches us that “The whole is greater than the part, but it is also greater than the sum of its parts. There is no need, then, to be overly obsessed with limited and particular questions. We constantly have to broaden our horizons and see the greater good which will benefit us all” (EG, n. 235).
We shouldn’t be forced into making this controversy about abortion. Yes, it is about that! But, that’s not all this debate is about. The pro-life movement exists to defend the woman just as much as the child.
In this debate, we need to make it clear that we want to get women the care they deserve. As Feminists for Life remind us, women deserve better care than abortion. By manipulating an abortion and endangering the health of a woman to obtain fetal body parts for corporate profit, Planned Parenthood does a great disservice to all women.
To build an authentic culture of life and a civilization of love, we cannot set the mother and her baby in opposition to one another. We are pro-life all the way from conception until natural death.
Now, I need to say a word about women who have had abortions. They’re a vitally important ally in this fight for life. In his encyclical letter on the Gospel of Life, Evangelium Vitae, Pope St. John Paul II said that because of their “own painful experience, [they] can be among the most eloquent defenders of everyone’s right to life” (EV, n. 99). Post-abortion women have first-hand experience of the horrible reality that Planned Parenthood so desperately wants to keep from the American people.
Let’s get to know these women’s stories. Groups like the National Office of Post-Abortion Reconciliation and Healing, Project Rachel, Rachel’s Vineyard, and so many others do us all a great service by shedding light on their experiences. Time and time again, they tell us in their own words that abortion never left them feeling self-actualized. Rather, it left them with a void and an emptiness they cannot fill.
When we realize how women have been deceived, robbed of their dignity, and stripped of their sense of security, we will be outraged. But, we will be moved to compassion for them. We will be moved to the eloquence of tears, not against, but radically on the side of women.
Those tears will wound the heart. Like a lance, they will pierce us. They will occasion an examination of our national conscience. And in that moment, we must turn toward prayer.
Let us pray for women and men religious across the country – the Missionaries of Charity, the Little Sisters of the Poor, the Sisters for Life, and so many others – who daily defend women and unborn children, who care for the marginalized and heavy burdened. Their witness to the inestimable worth and value of every life lends credibility to our efforts to build a culture and a civilization of love. May God increase their numbers!
In a special way, we should turn in prayer to our beloved Pope St. John Paul II.
Before his death, he traveled for one final time to the United States. He came to the city of St. Louis, the gateway to the West, to meet with American young people on the threshold of the third Christian millennium.
With his health already failing, he spoke to us one last time.
On the horizon of this city stands the Gateway Arch, which often catches the sunlight in its different colors and hues. In a similar way, in a thousand different ways, you must reflect the light of Christ through your lives of prayer and joyful service of others. With the help of Mary, the Mother of Jesus, the young people of America will do this magnificently!
Remember: Christ is calling you; the Church needs you; the Pope believes in you and he expects great things of you!
May we not disappoint him. Let us seize this moment in our national discussion about abortion to proclaim the Gospel of Life with the joy of all the saints.
This is the pro-life moment. For a moment such as this, he prepared us. Now, we go forth at the side of Francis to continue the work St. John Paul II began.