October is known as “Respect Life month” in the Church, but it is important to not reduce this to merely life in the womb. Pro-lifers are sometimes accused of being only pro-babies and at times that accusation rings a little too true. Babies, you see, are easy to love. They are adorable, helpless, and are fun to shower with affection.
Yet while babies are a delight to love, it is the other people I struggle to love. To be pro-life, though, means to be for the lives of every person, regardless of their personal appeal or state in life. Such a worldview is one that is hard to cultivate. However, if we claim to be pro-life we must work to achieve that broadness of heart.
When I was in college, I had multiple encounters with a living pro-life saint, Msgr. Reilly from Brooklyn, NY. Few can rival his dedication to the pro-life movement. He stands for hours outside abortion clinics, praying for the people who enter and offering alternatives accompanied by a genuine smile. While he is located outside an abortion clinic, he is not simply offering love to the pregnant mothers and fathers. He is loving the doctors, nurses, clinic escorts, men, women, and friends. Each person who enters or passes by the clinic is shown an authentic witness of love.
My heart is much smaller than Msgr. Reilly’s heart, but I learned quite a bit from him. Initially, I was all about the babies. Through his words and witness, my heart began to be changed. I began to feel love for the mothers and fathers who entered the clinic. Then I began to experience an authentic love for the clinic escorts who thwarted our every attempt to offer help and compassion. Finally, I was moved by love to encounter the doctors who performed abortions.
I don’t remember the day, but I was standing on a Pittsburgh street corner and it was cold. It was always cold there. That day I was taking a few minutes to chat with one of the dedicated pro-lifers who had been in the battlefield longer than I had been alive. We were talking and then he mentioned that the man walking a little ways away was the doctor.
Before I could over-think myself out of the situation, I set off in the doctor’s direction. Soon I was walking in step with him. He glanced my way as I kept pace with him.
“Good morning!” I said in a cheery voice. “How are you?”
“I’m doing great! I love my job.”
The words were few, but the Lord gave me a deeper insight into this man. I knew he wanted to startle or anger me. Sometimes someone yelling at you is easier to handle then if they are authentically trying to encounter you. I remained calm. Our time that day was brief. I couldn’t think of anything to say in response to his profession of love for his job, so I just walked silently next to him. When we got to the door, I said, “God bless you!” in the gentlest way I could manage. He walked inside and that was it.
In those few moments, I considered as never before the heart of a doctor who performs abortions. Cruel and hateful things are often yelled at him. People damn him to hell. They wish ill upon him. But how often is he encountered with love? I felt for a few moments what I imagined he feels. I had an aching heart, one torn by the very people who claim to be loving and pro-life. The ones who say they are offering help to women are hurling hate at the doctor as he walks to work.
I was overcome by a tremendous desire to be a witness of persevering love. I wanted to prove wrong his perception of pro-lifers. For all the times he has been shown otherwise, I wanted to reveal to him that we could be authentically pro-all lives, including his.
From that day on, each Saturday that I saw the doctor, I would quickly walk by his side until we reached the door. I racked my brain for things to say, but usually I would say, “Good morning!” and then “God bless!” at the door. He knew I disagreed with him regarding his job. My very presence declared that to be true. What he didn’t know was that the Lord was calling me to love him.
I don’t know if it made any impact on his heart, but it made an impact on mine. The Lord allowed me to hope for the good of the other, even when we were very different from each other. He gave me the grace to desire the healing of this doctor’s heart so that he might use his skill to heal and not to destroy. It gave me the opportunity to be authentically pro-life.
Sometimes the Lord calls us to speak truths that are hard to hear and accept. Other times He calls us to love with a gentle intensity. It is a love with few words yet persistent action. If the Lord calls us to love everyone, then He truly means everyone. It is not up to me to decide who is worthy of love or dignity. The quick answer is that all are worthy of it.
That means the doctor performing abortions is to be loved. That means Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton are to be loved. That means the one who betrayed you or stabbed you in the back is to be loved. That means that friend or foe, family or stranger are to be loved.
To be pro-life is to be for the dignity of all human persons. The Lord didn’t promise it would be easy, He just called us to do it anyway.