I had the opportunity to attend the March for Life in Washington DC with a few good friends this past week. We made it a pilgrimage of sorts.
We visited Mount Saint Mary’s Seminary on the way, and we went for a walk along the Stations of the Cross that leads to the Grotto and the small adoration chapel on the hill.
As we walked the Stations of the Cross, it began to snow. The snow melted the moment it landed. When we arrived at a scene of the crucifixion, up on a hill, I was struck by the effect the melting snow had on the face of Mary, looking up at her crucified Son. The water that streamed over her cheek had the appearance of tears.
I was moved by the realization that Mary’s look was one of deep sadness and reverent love, not despair, and not anger.
It made me think.
When we come to Mary, her gaze is never one of condemnation, though it was for our sins that her blessed Son was brutalized and killed.
Her look is one of deep compassion. If you have ever watched the movie, The Passion of the Christ, you may recall the eyes of the Blessed Mother, played so beautifully by the Romanian actress Maia Morgenstern, as she looks at the viewer—you and me--- while the lifeless, bruised and bloody body of her Son rests limply in her lap. Her eyes are not accusatory; they are hauntingly sad, and they seem to ask, “Do you see? Do you see what he has done for you?” Her longing that we do see is palpable in the long, drawn out look we receive from the screen.
Do I? Do I see?
Do I recognize what her Son did for me? Do I know that he would have done it for me even if I were the only person on earth? Do I recognize the Love demonstrated by the Son who willingly surrendered Himself to the fate that I justly deserve through my sins?
As I gazed at the face of Mary in the lightly falling snow I thought of a love that is just beyond my reach, and even comprehension. It beckons, but we cannot grasp it or even receive it without aid. We must be lifted up. Only in God may we reach this love.
The March for Life, which we walked the following day, was a potent reminder that love is not an illusion, or a fleeting emotion, but it is a force to be reckoned with. It breaks down thick walls of evil and fear; it smashes the barriers that stand between the human heart and God. God is love (cf. 1 Jn 4:8), and God is all powerful. He who abides in love abides in God (cf. 1 Jn 4:16).
To see so many (half a million or so at last report) people, unified for the cause of life, was a testament to the power of love to overcome. While I felt a certain pride in the fact that the Catholic faith dominated the march in terms of presence, I was edified and energized by the fact that there were others there that do not share our Catholic faith, and even, at times, disagree with its teachings. And yet we stood as one, in the power of love.
The many seminarians, religious, and priests, and the thousands of lay faithful, brimming with joy, were such a powerful witness to the love of Christ to all around them.
|Illustration copyright 2015 by Leighton Drake|
Hearts will change when they encounter changed hearts. People will come to be pro-life when we demonstrate pro-life love authentically. When we affirm the beauty and goodness of life through our witness, people will take notice.
I speak from experience as one who once took the “easy” stance of neutrality on the issue of abortion. I saw it as a personal choice, and though it was an ugly reality, it seemed perhaps a necessary evil. Before I became Catholic, I simply did not see the truth. But, through my conversion as a young man in my twenties, I learned to see life through a completely different set of lenses. I came to appreciate life in a way that made me understand the depth of the evil of abortion. It was the witness of the Church, in her unfaltering affirmation of the beauty and dignity of life, that God used to change my heart.
This doesn't mean we don't speak truth. Nor do we soft-pedal it. But we must speak truth in a spirit of authentic charity, or we don't have a chance of being agents of conversion for anyone. And we must remember we "speak" truth most convincingly by our actions.
The people who stood on the sidelines of the march holding placards that read things like, “My Body, My Choice,” must not be vilified. They must be seen as human beings who do not see the full truth of the beauty and dignity of all human life, for various reasons. There are undoubtedly wounds—deep wounds--- in them from which their blindness comes. Like the rest of us, they need conversion and healing. They need to encounter the love of Jesus Christ, who will show them the truth, goodness, and beauty of all human life, including their own.
The moment we make the pro-choice man or woman an object of scorn, we turn them into an object in our minds. Once we have objectified another human being, we have failed to love. In that moment, we have turned from Christ, and back inward, toward our smaller selves.
The beauty of the march was the joyful faith, hope, and love demonstrated by the youth there. They reminded me that our faith and our hope and our love are theological virtues: in other words, they are gifts from God, received at our baptism. They are the gifts that will change the world. We are reminded that sour-faced saints, to use the image of St. Teresa of Avila, act as a counter-sign to the true Gospel.
Only Love will conquer all. That love is the love that enabled Mother Mary to look upon us with not scorn or hatred, but only the deepest love and compassion, in spite of our complicity in the death of her Son. May we turn to Mary in our attempts to stand for life, and rely on her intercession and her witness of faith, hope, and love.