Monday, January 20, 2014
As the full import of my decision to go on a road trip with a bunch of high school and college students to the March for Life hit me, I had the following conversation with my groom this morning over bagels and coffee:
Whose bright idea was this anyway?
No, really—isn’t there someone I can blame?
Nope. Just yourself.
Not even Sister Margaret Mary?
What on earth possessed me at the delicate age of 62—a full decade past having to deal with high school students—to volunteer to chaperone at the March for Life? I could give lots of reasons—in fact, I thought of a series in quick succession, but as He of the Impossible Penances would say why is a lie—in other words, they’re rationalizations.
The reality is—for once in my life, I felt a tug, real if ever so slight-- and I responded to it without bothering to think. I don’t do that very often, but it’s the truth. It seemed like a good idea at the time, it felt right, and I didn’t talk myself out of it. This is going to be one of God’s good adventures.
There are, of course, many reasons I can gin up. The ones that flooded my brain when I started thinking ahead to the trip, ahead to what I would write—the ones I had to clear out of my mind before I came to the stark and wonderful conclusion that I’m going because I felt God call.
For instance: I’m going because I can. Let’s face it, there are a finite number of times I’ll be able—or more aptly, willing—to suffer inconvenience on a pilgrimage to anywhere. The last time I took an overnight bus trip was 39 years ago when I headed up to Gerton, NC from Gainesville, FL to tell my folks I was going to marry a man I’d only just started dating. One of the side effects of my conversion seems to be an ever-increasing hunger to experience the things, places, communities of faith being Catholic has opened to me. This trip—a change to be with a hundred or so (I’ll have to check on the numbers when I get to the bus tonight) of my closes Catholic kin on a road trip. Hard to beat that.
Then there’s the sheer energy of the event. I’ve seen the pictures—I just want to be part of all that joy and enthusiasm. Look at the images from years past—young faces, all smiles even while facing down the greatest evil of our time. This really is the Civil Rights movement of this era—I was too young to do anything in the last one, and I am late in coming to the party on this one, but I want my name written down in the scrolls as someone who marched to end the slavery of the unborn. For what greater slavery is there than to have one’s very personhood (and existence) subject to the whims and opinions of another?
Personally, there’s a bit of reparation to be made as well. I never had an abortion, but I have enough in my checkered past to make amends for, even though I long ago offloaded them in the confessional. I remember my feminist youth, when I was convinced of the reasonableness of the “abortion is wrong but who am I to tell someone else what to do” position. How many chances to change a mind (including my own) did I lose? There was the time I gave shelter to a friend who needed a place to stay after her own abortion—made even more poignant because my husband and I were beginning to deal with our infertility, and I ached to hold the baby she would abort—but never had the courage to tell her. If I had, would I have cuddled a little red-haired child instead of held a grieving friend who immediately regretted her choice?
Most painful of all is all the time I spent as a pathologist processing “products of conception” willfully suppressing the knowledge that these were little people that I would dissect and discard, unwilling even then to give voice to the realizations that were slowly, steadily, firmly taking root in my heart. Life is a process of evolution, after all, and all change is painful—these are my pains. It’s about time they gave rise to my witness.
The reality is that we all share a bit of the burden of abortion. We are so interconnected that none of us above the age of innocence is truly free of complicity in this great American tragedy, by silence and omission if not by act and advocacy. That’s not a new concept, I realize—Jesus drove it home when he taught us to pray forgive us our (not my) sins…
But I am reminded: Mercy is the intersection of the grace of God and the sins of man. Grace so real and present it is a person in its own right: the Holy Spirit, one of whose ancient titles is The Forgiveness of Sins—or so I learned this weekend at a retreat on holiness I attended on just as much a lark as I am taking this trip. Forgiveness, after all, is a manifestation of the love of God, which we understand to be so real as to be a person, the Holy Spirit. Forgiveness is personal and it’s personal. It’s a wonderful thought that we can be swept up into the arms of forgiveness, be kept company by forgiveness, relate to it and through it as though it were as real and personal as the kids on the bus—and sometimes just as unexpected, brash and exuberant.
From that forgiveness then comes the holiness that is our response to God’s call to us, the holiness that lets us pick ourselves up and move together along the journey to God, together when we were once apart.. Sin-grace-mercy-holiness, over and over in wonderful, endless cycle. Not his sins, not hers, not even mine, but ours. We are all in this together. Perhaps that is why coming together to try to change things is so powerful, in image and in fact. Mercy personified.
That’s why I am going on this trip. I’m not at all sure how God is working His will in the holocaust that is abortion, but He is, and I’d bet my last dime that the March for Life is one of the ways he’s working this all out: a sea of people extending the arms of forgiveness to a world that needs it because that world has forgotten just how precious life is, no matter what, no matter how, no matter why. I want to be swept up in that ocean, to be immersed, just for a little while, in all that love.
Besides, I’m pretty sure I got a personal invitation.