Someone gave me a book on the history of 40 Days for Life, a pro-life movement. The book is written by its two directors, David Bereit and Shawn Carney. Their purpose in being present at abortion clinics really struck me: “Our presence on the sidewalks is powerful in two critical ways – we are the last sign of hope for the mother and baby when they arrive, but also the first sign of mercy to the women as they leave.” Thus they offer an opportunity for conversion, but also “the opportunity to find the mercy of God at a time when they feel they’re beyond mercy.”
To me, this says it all. Our role is to offer mercy. Now there is one important way which is not mentioned in their purpose statement: It is to offer real alternatives, to accompany women who feel so beset that there is no real choice for them. A good number of our folk are seriously engaged in pregnancy assistance programs and they dedicate a good amount of their time, energy, and resources to present a real-life choice, even if it is not always used. These sisters of ours need our loving support and compassion. So, too, do the children within.
This is another reason why we should be supporting programs that assist the poor, which help them to help themselves, which provide them with living wages for their work, which seek to reduce the level of poverty in our society. It is not my aim to advocate any particular methods to achieve these goals, but certainly there is enough creativity in our society to seek changes that will truly benefit those in need. Of course, any policy that is promoted or law that is passed must respect the human dignity of all and must strengthen the ever-weakening family structure. Healthy families help people rise up from poverty. Policies and laws to the contrary are to be opposed.
Then those who witness at the doors of abortuaries are able to look with love and mercy on our sisters who feel driven to such drastic measures. We do not condemn them. Rather, we pray that God, who clearly has had mercy on us, will shower his mercy on those engaged in this commerce and bring about a change of heart. We also express, by our presence and prayer, a deep love for this woman and for this child. Perhaps that child will be loved by no one else before he or she departs from this life. But that child will be loved by those present as they witness to God’s love.
Finally, mercy is the last gift those who pray on the sidewalks offer to the adults as they leave behind another life. We are not there to yell or scream or rant. We are there to pray, to love and to beseech God for his loving mercy. For we know, from our own personal experience, that no one is beyond God’s mercy. Rachel’s ministry had engaged me when I was living in Columbus, Ohio. What a grace-filled work that was to offer healing and forgiveness and welcome to adults who had been themselves so wounded by the death of their aborted children. They named their children and prayed to them. It is a powerful and moving experience.
Finally, we need to continue to teach in the public forum the immorality of recourse to abortion. As a prophetic voice, we can never let our society become complacent in accepting this evil. We seek changes of heart, conversions of souls. We also seek those societal changes that will give some less cause to seek such a drastic solution to their personal dilemmas. We ourselves must never be content simply to let abortion and abortion funding become a normal part of our lives. And, at the root of everything, we need to promote the sacred human dignity of all, at whatever state of life they are, for that is the ultimate foundation, based on God’s gift of life to each one of us, which will provide the solid grounds upon which will be built the full life of each of us, from the womb to our grave.
Bishop Earl Boyea is the fifth bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Lansing.