A Franciscan friar stationed at St. Camillus Parish in Silver Spring, Md., writes about the friars’ responsibility to encourage the anti-abortion movement to adopt a more holistic definition of what it means to be pro-life.
A gusty wind pressed against the large vinyl banner. The message emblazoned on it proclaimed: “Choose Life! Support a Consistent Ethic of Life.” Listed below the theme were specifics: abortion, destruction of earth’s ecosystems, injustice, nuclear weapons, pandering to fear, racism, social inequality, torture – all those were crossed out. I tightened up my grip on the pole supporting the banner: I grasped it firmly; I would not let it go.
As I watched thousands of people walking by, I was encouraged to see so many idealistic young people marching for life and proclaiming themselves advocates of the next pro-life generation. Their sheer youthful exuberance reminded me of the World Youth Day back in 1991 in Czestochowa, Poland. There, Pope John Paul II challenged me and other young people to defend the right to life, and to work for justice, solidarity and peace. He summoned us to safeguard God’s creation, to get involved in healthy politics, and to become partners in building a “civilization of love” based on Catholic social teachings. That inclusive, holistic vision and its challenge have animated my Franciscan and priestly vocation.
Avoiding Moral Myopia
I do not doubt the sincerity of the many people attending the annual March for Life – I myself have been one of them for many years. Abortion represents a serious moral issue and yet many people remain unmoved. Abortion constitutes a glaring evil. At 10 weeks, the unborn child is just two inches long. His or her heart has been beating for several weeks. All organs are present and the unborn child can feel pain. The only thing it doesn’t have is the right to life, the right to enter this world.
However, as I marched this year, I saw people carrying Trump signs, wearing hats and shirts with his nationalistic slogans and applauding Kellyanne Conway, who attempted to cast President Trump as the arch-defender of life. I cringed. I fear that too many well-intentioned, faith-filled people may be, in fact, willing to sacrifice the integrity of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the name of political expediency and partisan gain. Many, no doubt, support the president in the hope of overturning Roe vs. Wade, even if it means cutting serious moral corners to achieve that end. Moral myopia is nothing new. The women’s suffrage movement turned a blind eye to the plight of black women, lest it diminish its chances of gaining the vote for “women.” Many, no doubt, saw this as a pragmatic decision and rationalized their approach: first white women and then all women.
We must not be fooled into accepting a false choice between protecting the right to life of the unborn or opposing torture, xenophobia, callousness towards the poor, the immigrant, the refugee. When someone in power glibly toys with the diabolic possibility of using nuclear weapons, he is no defender of life in all its forms. When those in positions of power dispute basic scientific facts and blithely push the human civilization over the cliff of sweeping environmental degradation, they condemn hundreds of millions of vulnerable people to misery and likely death – that is not a pro-life stand.
Here, a historical perspective might be helpful. One of the worst tyrants and mass murderers of the 20th century was Mao Zedong who was responsible for the deaths of an estimated 65 million Chinese during the so-called Cultural Revolution. Yet, he encouraged large families and outlawed abortion and contraception. The point is: just because someone is against abortion doesn’t mean that he’s pro-life. Our opposition to abortion must reflect an overarching and all-encompassing pro-life stance. It must not discriminate among life issues, embracing some and discarding others or downplaying still others. Abortion is a grave moral evil because it betrays life. The sanctity of life demands a comprehensive approach to all life-compromising evils.
Holding up Integrity of Gospel Message
I believe that as Franciscans we have a singular contribution to make to the pro-life cause. We must seize the opportunity to help the faith-based pro-life movement to see itself as striving to achieve a more consistent and holistic approach. We are called to help overcome the tragic fragmentation so rampant in our society and, instead, to foster integration between various issues and approaches. It is part of our Franciscan journey of conversion to make all things new in Christ. And, in doing so, to be more faithful stewards of God’s creation and defenders of all that brings forth life.
In the Gospel of Luke, we read that Jesus came to bring the good news to the poor, to open the eyes of the blind and to bring liberty to captives. When we reflect on the present acute divisiveness along the political fault-lines that we see in our country – and sometimes even in our friaries – we must ask ourselves: what ideological blind spots can each one of us claim as his own? What keeps us captives? Is it the kind of news media that we consume and inform our minds and hearts? Is it the pre-conceived notions about the “other” that we cling to? Or, have we become a single-focus people who have lost our appreciation of the totality of our Christian vocation? Surrounded by ideologues and partisan rock throwers, have we become willing to cast the first or the second or the third stone? Have we forgotten that throwing stones is reserved for those without sin?
The March for Life has become one of those venues where I seek to hold up the integrity of the Gospel message and to engage in respectful dialogue those with whom I don’t always see eye-to-eye. I do so in the belief that truth will emerge.
Our Franciscan tradition speaks of life as journey, a way of beauty. As we walk together on that path, we learn how to see, think, feel and act correctly. Rediscovering our vocation to be spiritual and social artists, we as Franciscans can help reconcile the apparently opposing elements and weave things together into a beautiful seamless garment of life that would reveal the face of God.
— Fr. Jacek, a resident of Silver Spring, Md., is chair of Holy Name Province’s Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation Directorate.
- “HNP Ministries Bring Enthusiasm to March for Life” – Feb. 4, 2016, HNP Today
- “Protesting Abortion and Acts That Destroy Human Life” – Feb. 13, 2013, HNP Today
- “JPIC Team Supports One Ethic of Life Message” – Jan. 21, 2009, HNP Today