How Lila Rose Became Pro-Life … and Catholic
The founder of Live Action recalls early influences from Protestant parents who read the Church Fathers.
At 9 years old, Lila Rose saw an image of an aborted baby in a book at her home. She said it struck her to the heart, and she asked, How could anybody do this to a baby?
In time, she became educated about the abortion issue and wanted to act, to speak out, and help save some of the lives that were being taken.
At 15, Rose started her organization Live Action, which she continues to lead today. In 2006, Rose began her series of undercover videos of Planned Parenthood that revealed non-reporting of apparently illegal situations. Rose and friends would pose as minor, pregnant girls seeking abortions, while videotaping conversations with workers, and then later posting the videos on YouTube.
Last year, Live Action released a video where a manager at a Planned Parenthood in New Jersey aided a couple pretending to be operating a prostitution ring of 14- and 15-year-old girls.
Live Action’s video investigations have placed serious scrutiny on the largest abortion provider in the country, including a more than $61-million loss of state funding, according to the group. The investigation in New Jersey led to an Illinois law that expanded the list of those who are obligated to report sex violations involving minors to authorities.
Rose, who comes from a family of eight children, recently graduated from UCLA and is already becoming a pro-life leader. A few hours before the March for Life on Jan. 23, she spoke to Register correspondent Justin Bell about a variety of topics, including her conversion to Catholicism.
You said you converted to Catholicism not that long ago. Can you walk me through that process a little bit?
I was received into the Church two and a half years ago. Best day of my life, although every day after that has been pretty good, too. I was raised as a Protestant, and my parents were very faithful people; and they taught us to read the Bible and love and respect life. I learned about Jesus Christ as a Protestant.
But in my upbringing, my dad was on his own spiritual journey, reading the Church Fathers and doctors. So we had these books in the home: a lot of Ignatius Press books, for example. And so, I was reading these as a young teen. I read Joan of Arc by Mark Twain when I was 12. I was reading Mother Teresa’s writings at 12, 13 … like Total Surrender, Loving Jesus. Then I was reading St. Thomas Aquinas, and I was actually translating him in and out of Latin. That was part of the education experience that I was given by my parents because we’re home-schooled. They really pursued classical education for us. That was really neat, too; that’s another side of the story, but …
I was becoming formed by some of the best thinkers and saints of our Church, doctors of our Church, as a teen. I was very much drawn to the Church. I was drawn to Our Lady. I admired her so much, although the Protestant community doesn’t really talk about her very much. … My family talked about our faith, and, of course, about theology and different aspects of the Catholic tradition and everything. But we were still Protestant.
So then, when I got to UCLA, I fell in with — literally, one day I was looking for a church to go to — I had been experimenting with different Protestant churches, and I couldn’t find one that I clicked with, as they say, because the Eucharist wasn’t there and the theology was not sound. And I knew it, but I hadn’t really gotten to the place in my head that: Oh, I need to be Catholic; that just makes sense. I had been intellectually convinced over a period of years, but I really didn’t have Catholic friends, you know, strong Catholic friendships or anything like that, so it didn’t really occur to me that I could convert.
You didn’t see a way to convert then?
I didn’t see a way to that. And my family, I thought, Well, maybe one day if they do [convert], then I could with them, but they were not doing it at the time.
So I was looking for churches and [said] “I’ll go to Mass.” I had been to Mass a few times before … so I called up my friend Jen, and she was going to a Mass at this women’s Catholic center, which turned out to be a women’s Opus Dei center. … I didn’t realize there were all women in the little chapel; I was kind of clueless.
I went, prayed through the Mass, and then I was sitting with a woman in the back of the Mass; and I turned to her afterwards, and I said, “You know, is there someone here that can mentor me, or something like that?” She was a numerary [a type of member of Opus Dei who, according to the institution’s website is “completely available to attend to the apostolic undertakings and the formation of the other faithful of” Opus Dei], and she’s like, “Yes, I’ll see you tomorrow.”
She ended up becoming my sponsor; a year and a half later, I was received into the Church. I got formation there. I started meeting with a priest on a weekly basis, my spiritual director. I was all of a sudden awash with desire, awakened with desire to be part of the Church and to get to receive the Eucharist. And all these things that I knew intellectually were suddenly becoming very real in my heart. And so, it was only a matter of time.
Of all the pro-life work you do, with the investigations and so forth, how do you build up spiritually for that? What are some of your spiritual practices that our readers might be interested in?
I think for all of us the life of prayer is essential. It’s the life blood of our whole life. It’s our way to deepen intimacy with God. I mean, it is deepening our intimacy with Our Lord.
For me, I survive on daily Mass, the Rosary and mental prayer each day; spending time in front of the Blessed Sacrament, daily aspirations, trying to recall, you know, bring Christ into each situation I’m in.
In investigative work, you know: St. Michael the Archangel, St. Raphael, St. Gabriel, Archangel of America, St. Joan, St. Joseph, St. Josemaría; you know, calling on all the different saints and blesseds to join us; Blessed Mother Teresa, Blessed Pope John Paul II.
Blessed Pope John Paul II and Blessed Mother Teresa are two that are very close to me. So just calling on the council of saints, calling on Our Lady, calling on the archangels and the angels, and just asking for inspiration from the Holy Spirit, and then just, you know, plowing through.
Because I think sometimes we get a burst of passion to really live a good plan of life and make it an hour in front of the Blessed Sacrament and things like that. And then the next day, you know, it’s really tough, and we end up just a few minutes or something.
I think, for me, it’s really just seeking — despite the travel, because last year I traveled over 50% of the time; it was nuts, and I moved twice. So despite the busyness of life, and then the life of a Catholic really active in their apostolate, life can get crazy.
So it’s so essential to say: No. 1 [are] these norms, as Opus Dei says, this plan of life, where I’m going to make it before the Blessed Sacrament; make it to mental prayer; make it to Mass. If I absolutely can’t — a spiritual communion. My prayer life isn’t anything unique. I’ve learned through Opus Dei, and I’ve learned from many saints and blesseds throughout the years.
What would you say to someone, a young person — male or female — where this is their first March for Life. It’s kind of overwhelming, seeing a lot of different people, different signs.
What would you say to them as a veteran in the pro-life movement?
I’m a young vet. I’m only 23, so I don’t know about “veteran”; I’m more like an infantryman who’s out there going. … I would say if you’re here and this is your first march: First of all, it’s wonderful that you’re here. There’s a reason you’re here. The Holy Spirit is going to work in your life and in other people’s lives because you’re here. So be open to inspirations you’re going to receive. Be open to learning more. Be open to being inspired. Be open to becoming more committed, and let this be an encouragement and inspiration point for you, because it will be; it can only be.
And then I would also say: Don’t just make it one day a year, you know? If you’re here, that’s fantastic — but we need you tomorrow; we need you the next day; we need you on Sundays at your church; we need you at your schools standing up for life; we need you voting for life; we need you encouraging and working with your friends to make sure they’re not having abortions; helping them stand up for chastity; helping them stand up for sexual integrity, understanding of their own sexuality; standing up for holy purity. We need you speaking out the truth whenever you have an opportunity — activism on your campus; passing out [literature]; doing displays or having speakers come or hosting debates — anything. There’s so many ways to get involved. We need you every day, not just today.
I just talked to a woman before you who’s probably in her late 60s, early 70s, who’s here. She’s not going to march, because I think it’s a little bit tough for her health. Do you find a kind of wisdom and so forth from different generations here?
Totally. I’ve counted it as a special blessing to be able to form friendships and get wisdom from people who’ve been involved in this movement long before I — before I was even born, many of them. We are standing on the shoulders. I’ve learned from their examples, of their commitment, of their integrity, of their courage, of their love, and I think that they have a lot to teach us.
We can also learn from the advice that they have for us: about the things that they did; that they would have done differently or the way that they persevered through trials.
Can you tell me a little bit about the future of Live Action?
I’m really excited about Live Action. This is my first year that I’ll be able to have a full-time team, a small team, and be graduated from school.
It’s really exciting that we’re able to really focus our energies on the most important issue of our day — where there’s crisis happening every day — and we’re able to launch a full-scale investigative program against the abortion industry and lobby and continue to build the largest social-media platform for young people, to activate and to reach them.
So this is going to be a great year. We’re releasing new investigations. Our Facebook page is at a quarter million right now, and it grows every day. We have one of the leading blogs; we just had 100,000 unique visitors last month; it grows every month. We have a team of 60 bloggers who are writing for us. We just have a lot of young people we’re connecting with more and more each day. Our magazine’s on 300 high school and college campuses right now — Advocate.
We’re building our media platform and building our messaging of the truth, because it’s all about messaging of the truth to our generation. I’m really excited about the momentum.
2012 will be a big year for Live Action. 2013 we have even more in store, so stay tuned and sign up to get our emails and follow us on Twitter and like us on Facebook.
Election 2012 — a big election. There’s a lot of people talking about candidates today or whatever. What’s your thought on the whole political process — how you vote — not necessarily who you vote for, but what you look for?
It’s absolutely essential that we have a president who not only says they’re pro-life, but in their record we’ve seen them stand up for life and not compromise. I understand that politics can be difficult, and I’ve heard all kinds of people talking about political realities and working within possibilities and things like that. But I think that we need heroes right now; meaning people who are willing to, in a way, take on little martyrdoms for our cause.
I understand we need to be wise, and we need to be smart about how we do things, but I think that it will be amazing, and it will surprise us — as I believe it already has — to see what courage publically can do, where it’s not afraid of the consequences. And I want to see that in our president; I want to see that in our legislators; I want to see that in our Senate. And if we see that, we’re going to see an end to legal abortion. But until we see courage without fear of consequences in our political leadership, we’re going to continue as we have for the last 40 years — with 1 million children or more being killed a year. We need courage without fear. I’ve seen that in some politicians. I mean, there’s some great people in our legislatures right now. We saw the first defunding (effort of Planned Parenthood) in the House of Representatives last year. Some of our candidates have a very strong background.
But I would just say: Be very wise about who you’re going to support and look at their records. Send a signal with your vote and to your community and to the person you’re voting for — that we care about people who stand up and don’t compromise, and that’s the person we’re going to back.
Register correspondent Justin Bell writes from Boston.