The pro-life movement has been an important part in my life since I was a teenager. For as long as I can remember, my grandmother helped with pregnancy support centers, which helped me realize how important these types of ministries were. In high school, I became more vocal about why I thought abortion was wrong. I entered speaking contests, volunteered at fundraising events, and started praying in front of abortion clinics. In college, I made my dearest friends while working together in Students for Life. Now as a campus minister, I go on the March for Life trip every year with our students. I’ll post something on social media every once in a while, and find myself wishing other people cared enough to comment on or even like it. So I like to think of myself as “pro-life.” I like to think that I am on the right side of this issue.
Recently I had the chance to attend one of the prayer vigils at our local abortion clinic. The group that I was with was prayerful and peaceful, with some time for music as well as silent prayer. Our leader prayed that everyone there today would know that they were loved- the doctors, the nurses, the escorts, the clients. It was important that we loved everyone as well as the unborn child that we were there to protect.
We spent some time in individual prayer on the sidewalk. I found myself watching other protesters who were not with our group. These people often irritate me. These are the people with the graphic signs, the damning slogans, the chants. These are the people who follow the clients to the door, who give the pro-life movement the reputation of heckling and shouting. I looked down at the concrete that I was standing on and saw messages written in chalk. Things like “Abortion is unforgivable” or “Don’t kill me Mommy!” I thought these things were so counterproductive. That these people weren’t doing any good, and that I was not going to be like that. I would be friendly, peaceful, and loving. So I stood there praying, feeling proud and glad that I was there that day – because they needed people like me.
I also noticed the people who were there with me for the prayer vigil. I even found myself irritated at some of them. That person is singing too loud. That person isn’t singing. That person annoys me every time I see them, so I’m going to avoid talking to them.
It suddenly hit me what I was doing. I was standing there on the sidewalk, and I was supposed to be a “witness” to love. And instead I was judging every other person there. I was not only judging the people involved in the clinic, but even more so the people involved in the pro-life cause. I thought about all those people I encountered that morning when I arrived at the prayer vigil, or the people I interacted with in the past week. Those people whom I complain or talk badly about. Those people whom I roll my eyes at. Whom I think I am so much better than. Whom I “tolerate” but don’t enjoy being with. Whose life I’ve never affirmed as being precious.
We say that we love the baby, the mother, the doctors, the escorts, the protesters …. but do we even love each other?
Sometimes we think we’re great at showing love to people “on the other side.” We give ourselves a pat on the back for being “respectful” or “compassionate.” We congratulate ourselves on performing an act of mercy. But then, within our own community, the way we treat each other falls short of Christ-like love. We complain about our problems and blame them on other people. We have only negative things to say, and maybe even enjoy making fun of people who annoy us. Many times, those same people are just as dedicated to the same causes that we are.
Finding other Catholics or Christians around you can be hard. It’s hard to find community, especially as a young adult. When you find friends who support your faith and actions, it’s a very valuable thing. Yet sometimes, the worst disagreements, gossiping, and drama are found in Catholic circles. Some of this may be true if you work in some type of Church or ministry, but often I notice this in social interaction. I notice it in the way that I think, talk, and behave.
“Those people are always talking during church. Don’t they care about the sacredness of the Mass?”
“That person is such a show-off. They act so holy, but I know they aren’t.”
“That girl is always chasing that guy who isn’t interested in her. I know she wants to get married, but how desperate can you get?”
“I’m sure that guy has it out for me. He always seems to have a problem with me.”
Within the Church, we are supposed to be One Body in Christ. Yet those are the people I most often tear down. So then I have to ask myself – if I’m not loving my brothers and sisters in the Church, how real is my love for those on “the other side?” Is it real love, or am I just trying to make myself appear compassionate? As we heard this past Sunday, Christ commands us to love each other the way that he loved us. (John 13:34) The Catechism tells us:
Sometimes it feels easy to love the “children and the poor” by simply saying we are pro-life or just donating to charity. But I have to go so much further than that. If my mission is to love, I can’t just confine it to a certain group of people. I have to start asking God to have love for every individual person I encounter. I need the humility to see that I am in just as much need of grace and redemption as they are. Every life is precious, and I need to start truly treating them as such. If I am not valuing every life, it doesn’t matter how involved I am in the pro-life movement.
That day in front of the abortion clinic, as we sang a final song, I asked God to change my heart, which had somehow been twisted inward. I needed to realize how much I needed his grace and mercy in my soul. I need the grace to truly show his love and mercy to the people in my life, no matter who they are.