I have now officially surpassed my previous record of consorting with Catholics, set when I was fortunate enough to attend a papal mass with 85,000 or so of my closest Catholic relatives. With half a million folks or so at the March For Life—and a great plenty of them Catholic, I’m guessing I passed that mark a couple of times over.
I realize the March is not solely a Catholic event –I saw a banner for Lutherans for Life—but once we finally joined the crowd (for a moment we were, quite literally, bringing up the rear…), I found myself immersed in a sea of Catholics,, mostly young, always joyful and all things considered, quite loud….in the best possible way. Our little crew oozed forward in the ranks, passing by groups praying the rosary, bands playing—even pro-life cheers. (We love babies, yes we do, we love babies, how about you?). All of a sudden the day didn’t seem so cold; half a million folks make a pretty effective windbreak.
I was looking for the surprise from God. I found it not in events but in understanding. I was reminded of the Road to Emmaus story: the disciples who had left the community lost the understanding of what was happening, how to put it all together. Only when they re-entered community with Christ as their guide did they understand—and they hurried right back to join their brothers and sisters.
At the end of the march, we began to encounter the folks from Silent No More. Women carrying signs: I regret my abortion; men with buttons that declared they regretted the loss of fatherhood. Before long, we were at the Supreme Court steps where these women, one after another, gave painful testimony about their experiences. It was hard to listen to even as it was a plenteous display of God’s mercy in action. Over and over stories about not understanding what was happening to them, of being coerced, of the physical pain of the procedure, unaddressed and the psychic pain as women realized—sometimes as it was happening—what they were doing to the child within them. Then blessing of the healing of good friends and good programs like Rachel’s Vineyard and so very often the blessing and the joy of adoption. Powerful stuff.
I had expected to see hecklers along the route. Perhaps we were late enough that they had tired and gone home, perhaps it was too cold for them to be out in the first place. But there, as we stood, barricaded by fences from an empty Supreme Court building, patrolled by police (I wonder what they thought we would do? March for Life folks are not generally given to displays of violence…) I saw one placard being held aloft. In vulgar and secular terms, it manifested great opposition to changing the abortion laws. I never saw who held it, but given the text, it had to be a woman and she had to be within a few feet of the women from Silent No more, who came, one after another to give tearful witness.
I was reminded of the daily reading from a few days ago: Luke 4:21 Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.
Notice, not in your sight. In your hearing. Rather like Thomas Aquinas said, senses deceive—I will believe what the Son of God has said. One can close eyes to images, be distant enough not to touch—but it’s hard to shut out hearing. That’s one reason tyrants always seek to suppress speech—it is the gateway to the mind and to the heart. Remember Mary Magdalene? She mistook Christ for the gardener until He spoke her name. Speech is powerful.
That placard-carrying woman heard a lot yesterday about the effects of abortion, testimony that puts the lie to what “everyone knows” about how abortion is a great good for women and humanity. I doubt that it made an immediate difference, but those words lie imprinted in now in her mind, there forever, perhaps to surface at some quiet time when she is least expecting it, to startle and worry her, to move her a little closer to God. Who knows? But the words are there and with them, I think, must also come the Word. Someday, perhaps, in the quiet of her heart, she will hear Him speaking her name and respond. Let us pray that she does and that we do as well.
As we were walking back at the end of the march, we passed piles of snow into which placards had been stuck as one final, silent protest. I expect by the time I write this, all evidence of the masses who came to give witness to the Truth and the lies has been swept away. Congress wasn’t even in session; the ones who most need to see who we are and hear what we say were absent form the scene. It would be easy to get discouraged about the effects of what we did.
But I am reminded of this: when Jesus came to earth, the Jews were a poor, forgotten people, insignificant, powerless, under the thumb of Rome 33 years later, when He died and rose again, they were still poor, forgotten, powerless, insignificant and under the thumb of Rome.
Yet everything was different. Because the Word had been made flesh. And the world will never be the same again because of that Word and those who witness to Him—regardless of how it looks from our moment in time and our human perspective.
Before the march, abortion was legal, 55 million babies had died at the hands of abortionists and their mothers (not counting the ones aborted by so–called contraception). The world at large looked at the marchers as loonies at best, dangerous dissidents to be suppressed at worst.
As I write this, abortion is still legal, almost the foundational sacrament of the secular culture. More babies have died in the interim between yesterday afternoon and today and we who marched are, like our Jewish forefathers, poor, insignificant, powerless and under the thumb of the state in so many ways. Today nothing has changed.
And yet, everything is different, because of those folks who braved the cold because they had an encounter with the Word Made Flesh (almost certainly as a result of something they heard), the Word still dwelling among us. And they took that Word to the streets and gave Him voice.
Nothing has changed Everything is different.
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because He has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.
Yesterday (and today, and tomorrow, if we are faithful and give witness) this passage was fulfilled within our hearing.
Come, join the March.