Saying Yes to Life, Rebuilding God’s House, Healing Our Church

Jacek Orzechowski, OFM Justice and Peace

I have been participating in the March for Life for years.  I do it because I believe in the sanctity of human life.  As a Franciscan friar, I have preached and pastorally counseled women who dealt with pregnancies in very challenging circumstances and who struggled to choose life.  I have participated in the March for Life because I have been awed by the beauty of God’s amazing grace shining through numerous people I cherish whose existence once came so close to being eliminated in the womb.  During the March for Life, I hold in my prayers the women and men who have wrestled with the decisions they have made and who came to know the power of God’s healing mercy and new life.

I participate in the March for Life as a Catholic whose thoughts and actions have been shaped by the Bible, the church’s rich tradition of Social Doctrine, and certainly, by the Franciscan worldview that reminds us that everything is deeply interconnected.  One of the large banners I held up at the March read: “Choose Life.” Underneath these words, crossed out, were listed: Abortion, Destruction of Earth’s Ecosystems, Injustice, Nuclear Weapons, Pandering to Fear, Racism, Social Inequality, Torture.  I have no doubt that my countryman, Saint Pope John Paul II, looking down from heaven, is proud of my bearing witness to his call to an all-embracing vision of a “Civilization of Love.”

This is why I have found President Trump’s presence as the main speaker at the 2020 March for Life morally offensive.  He is not a pro-life champion.  Many of his policies are antithetical to the Gospel values and to the best of what our country stands for.  His racist policies scapegoat and attack the poor and vulnerable in our communities, denying them justice while catering to the richest of the rich.  President Trump attacks democracy and our cherished institutions, lavishes praises on dictators, and denigrates diplomacy.  His administration has attacked basic climate science and rolled back basic environmental regulations protecting our health.

The Global Assessment on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services Report from 2019 compiled by 145 experts from 50 countries and based on 15,000 scientific and governmental sources asserts that around 1 million animal and plant species are threatened with extinction, many within decades.   Yet, President Trump and his administration choose to ignore the truth.  Their misguided policies — beholden to the dirty fossil fuel interests — pose a fundamental threat to our national security, to the world, and to life itself.  This will inevitably lead to mass crop failures and starvation, violence, and huge waves of climate refugees.  There is still a window of opportunity for a decisive, collective action that could help to forestall the worst consequences.  President Trump and his administration, however, are blithely leading our country and the rest of the world over the cliff of climate catastrophe and ecocide.  This is a monumental sin against the Creator.  Bestowing moral legitimacy on the purveyors of this inter-generational evil is inexcusable.

Being pro-life within a Catholic, morally coherent framework also requires taking a courageous stand against the possession, proliferation and use of nuclear weapons.  On January 16, 2020, Newsweek magazine reported that, a few months earlier, the United States had deployed a new, more “usable” nuclear weapon for the first time since the Cold War.  Four senior military officers interviewed by Newsweek also expressed that, “there is something about this president (Trump) and the new weapons that makes contemplating crossing the nuclear threshold a unique danger.”  According to The Hill, back in 2016, then Presidential Nominee Donald Trump asked a foreign policy adviser three times in an hour-long briefing: “If we have them (nuclear weapons), why can’t we use them?”  President Trump’s bellicose and trigger-happy temperament, his presumption of impunity, that he is above the law and conventional, moral norms – all these factors may propel us down the rabbit hole to a nuclear war.  As the Doomsday Clock is ticking, focusing on the hope of overturning the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision in the upcoming elections may inadvertently become a Pyrrhic victory.  Last year, on his visit to Japan, Pope Francis declared, “… I wish once more to declare that the use of atomic energy for purposes of war is today, more than ever, a crime not only against the dignity of human beings but against any possible future for our common home.”  The Holy Father also has made nuclear disarmament a high priority for the Church.

Putting a pro-life label and lavishing praise on a morally unscrupulous leader who has the power to authorize a nuclear attack and who surrounds himself with End Times’ evangelicals eager for a nuclear confrontation in the Middle East is an epitome of ignorance, moral myopia and irresponsibility.

I was born and grew up in Poland, a country devastated by the scourge of Nazism and Communism.  I pay attention to history and heed its lessons.  In 1933, in the country to the west of Poland, big crowds – most of them Christians, including many priests and bishops – came under the spell of a new, charismatic leader.  His promise was, “The National Government will regard…as its first and foremost duty to revive in the nation the spirit of unity and co-operation.  It will preserve and defend those basic principles on which our nation has been built.  It regards Christianity as the foundation of our national morality, and the family as the basis of national life.”  The name of that leader was Adolf Hitler.  Between 1939 and 1945, in my native Poland, 6 million people lost their lives to the forces of evil unleashed by Hitler and his enablers.  Three million Polish citizens of Jewish faith and a similar number of Polish Christians perished in the war.

Promoting a Culture of Life requires from our church the gifts of hindsight, insight, and foresight.  There is too much at stake for us to be gullible or to hide behind simple good intentions.  We cannot sacrifice the moral integrity of the Gospel for political expediency, lest we be guilty of idolatry.  Choosing life means protecting the unborn, safeguarding our common home (the earth), seeking justice for the poor, and working to abolish nuclear weapons.  Opting for life is about saying No to the cheap grace of political expediency and Yes to the seamless garment that reveals the face of Christ.  Choosing life means rejecting the false choice between caring for the unborn and caring for earth, between seeking justice for brown-skinned immigrants and the poor and championing the cause of the struggling white people.  I deeply believe that we must reject these false choices, come to our senses as the Prodigal Son did, and return to our Heavenly Creator.  Personally, I pledge my life and fortune to that cause.

Standing on Constitution Avenue at the March for Life in 2020, holding up the Seamless Garment, pro-life banner, I heard a loud noise just after 12 Noon.  It was the sound of thunderous applause coming from the National Mall as people of faith welcomed President Trump to the main stage.  At that moment, I could not help but think about another big crowd, 2,000 years ago in Jerusalem with its cheers for Barabbas.

This year marks the 5th anniversary of the promulgation of Pope Francis’ seminal encyclical Laudato Si’.  In it, he takes a seamless garment approach to dealing with a wide range of environmental, socio-economic, and spiritual challenges confronting us.  He also calls for “a bold cultural revolution,” and a re-commitment to building a “civilization of love.”  The approaching season of Lent is a great opportunity for the church to have a Bonhoeffer moment.  Do we dare to repent for our collective moral myopia, for offering the cheap grace of the truncated pro-life message and for having sacrificed the moral integrity of the Gospel for political expediency?  The stakes are enormously high.  We are tempted to cling to an excuse of our choice and not deal with the challenge. But love conquers all fear.  It calls us to take on the cross of prophetic witness. God willing, in due time, we will be surprised by hope.

— Fr. Jacek Orzechowski, OFM, is a member of the Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation Animation Committee of the Franciscan Order

Disclaimer: The views expressed by the individual authors contributing their reflection on this website are intended to foster moral discernment through exposure to various opinions and perspectives, especially those rooted in our prophetic Franciscan tradition.  However, they are not to be construed as an endorsement of any political party or candidates to an elected office.