I returned yesterday evening from Washington, DC, where I participated along with several hundreds of thousands of people from our parish, our Diocese, and from the entire country in marching to demand legal protections for unborn children. Before moving abroad in 2011 I used to attend the March for Life annually, but it had been six years since I had attended the March. So I want to share with you all some of that experience, about the March and about the marchers:
First, the marchers are young. A majority are high school and college students. Many carry signs that read, “We are the pro-life generation.” The presence of so many young people is a cause for so much hope for our country and our world.
Second, the marchers are peaceful. They do not carry signs with derogatory language and they refrain from inflammatory statements about people with whom they disagree.
Third, they are compassionate. This was a theme that really struck me this year as I was attending the March for the first time in six years. Before the March there is an impressive rally on the National Mall, right below the Washington Monument. Quite a number of people speak – elected officials, of course, but not only. This year we heard from a former abortion clinic director, a Mexican-American woman who recently made a movie about the sacredness of human life, and the daughter of immigrants from Haiti. The dominant theme that I heard over and over again in the speeches Friday was not what you would expect. It was not the need to overturn Roe vs. Wade (though that came up), it was not efforts to remove federal funding from abortion providers (thought that came up too), it was about the need for love and compassion for those who have been hurt by abortion.
We can find an echo of that theme in the collect prayer for today’s Mass (the prayer the priest chants after we sing the Gloria) – “Grant us, Lord our God, that we may honor you with all our mind, and love everyone in truth of heart.” God’s love is universal. He created each and every person on this planet and He desires that we participate in that love by receiving it, and by sharing it with others.
Love, though, has become wildly misunderstood in today’s modern culture. Most people, if you asked them to define love, will struggle to give you an answer, and when they do, they will describe it more as a feeling or sentiment rather than as act of the will, a choice “to will the good of the other,” as the classical tradition would have it. This definition of love – “to will the good of the other,” requires that we consider what is truly good for another. (This, incidentally, is why when governments choose to allow members of the same sex to attempt to marry, love does not win, because to enter such a relationship is not good for the people who are now being encouraged to do so, and so such a relationship cannot be an authentic expression of love.) On the contrary (for example), the parents who do not allow their children to be involved in activities that could harm their souls performs an act of great love by bringing about what is truly good for the child – no matter how much that child complains that his parents’ lack of indulgence is “ruining my life,” as I am sure I told my parents when I was a teenager.
In order for love to be grounded in the authentic good of another, love has to be grounded in truth; it needs to come from a heart that is passionately in love with the truth. Two days ago, I saw, marched with, and prayed with hundreds of thousands of young people with just such hearts. Being in love with Christ, who told us that He is “the way, the truth, and the life,” means being in love with his truth, of desiring always to learn more of His teachings, and desiring to guide – with loving kindness and compassion – others into that truth as well.
How, then, can we make a difference in this fight for authentic love, for love grounded in truth? St. Paul told us today, “God chose the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who are something.” We must be willing to be the lowly and despised of the world. This happens when we are willing to bear the scorn of the world. We can think of the parents who have chosen to be truly generous in welcoming children into their families who bear the scornful glances and insensitive remarks (even from their fellow Catholics!) of those who think they are being irresponsible by accepting more children. We can think of the teenagers who endure the scorn of their peers when they stand strong and refuse to give into peer pressure, both to destructive and sinful behaviors and also pressure to conform to the mind of the world in their opinions.
But how is it that weak thus shame the strong? Remaining strong in our convictions is important, but it is not enough to shame the strong. What is strong enough to shame the strong of the world, to reduce to nothing those who are something, is not just the strength of our convictions – PAUSE – it is our joy.
What the world expected to see at the March for Life two days ago was anger. They expected to see a group of bitter people, angry that the rest of the world does not share their convictions, and eager to control and oppress those who do not share their moral values. But what I saw was very different. I saw joy, the joy that comes from knowing Christ and knowing that He is already triumphant over sin and death, that He has overcome all the evils of this world, and that He will overcome this one as well. I see that joy here too in our parish in the many people and families who witness to the infinite value of human life. I see it in the families that welcome children generously, in those who devote themselves to caring for the sick and the elderly, in those who care for those with disabilities of body and mind, in those who welcome children through adoption and foster care, and in those too who bear the cross of infertility, but do so with joy, trusting in God’s plan. Joy, joy in all this, is what has the power to confound the world and reduce to nothing those who are something in the shallow estimation of the world.
The final theme of the March for Life, and one of the most important aspects of true, God-like love, was forgiveness. To talk about abortion or other sins against life without talking about forgiveness is always a great mistake. We should never forget that there is no sin so grave that God would not forgive those who confess it, no wound so deep that Jesus, the Divine Physician, would not be able to heal it. If you have experienced the harmful effects of abortion in your life, if you bear this wound, please do not hesitate any longer to allow Jesus to comfort you and fill your heart with the joy of His forgiveness.
Forgiveness and mercy, though, is not just work for God to do – it is a task for all of us. A heart that is truly open to God’s truth is also a heart that is open to all of God’s children. We must not allow the world to be right about us! We must not allow ourselves to slip into scornful speech about those who have not been so fortunate as to have the moral formation that we have, or have been pressured into making these decisions by those who are more powerful than they are. All too often, people are repulsed from God’s mercy because His followers do not seem themselves to be very merciful.
The March for Life reminded me about how much brokenness there is in the world. Women gave testimonies about how their lives had been affected by abortion. Women from minority communities and others from the inner city spoke about how abortion providers prey upon ethnic minorities and the economically disadvantaged.
But even more than the brokenness, what stood out was hope. The example of so many peaceful and compassionate young men and women cannot fail to fill the heart with joy at the fulfillment of the Lord’s promise that he “will leave as a remnant in your midst a people humble and lowly,” as we heard today from the prophet Isaiah, a people who “shall do no wrong and speak no lies;” a new generation determined to be the foolish of the world in order to shame the wise, determined to be the weak of the world in order to shame the strong, determined to be those counted by the world as nothing in order to reduce to nothing those who are something in the eyes of a fallen world. March on, you foolish, weak, and little of the world. March on.
The Rev. Royce V. Gregerson
IV Sunday through the Year, A.D. MMXVII
Parish Church of St. Charles Borromeo, Ft. Wayne