Every January our attention is turned in a particular way to the pro-life message. It is the time when we recall in a particular way the tragic anniversary of the 1973 Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton Supreme Court decisions that legalized abortion throughout all nine months of pregnancy for virtually any reason. Contemplating this blight on the American soul can be pretty staggering.
Approximately 57 million abortions have occurred over the past 42 years, a number that is difficult to fathom. How can we picture these numbers? One way is to think of it as one-in-three. In speaking to high school students, for example, they are often impacted by the notion that for every three of them in the classroom, there is a missing person: one-third of their potential classmates that they will never get to know in this life.
It’s also been said that if we were to look out at our congregation on a Sunday morning, there might be, on average, one person in every pew who has somehow been affected by abortion – whether themselves directly, or a friend or loved one who has suffered so much pain.
A particularly stunning representation of these numbers was reported recently by National Right to Life in an article called “How Many is 57 Million?” The embedded video in the article demonstrates the loss of life through an animated map of the United States. In four short minutes they cover forty-two years of abortion in relation to each of the states. By the end it looks like more than half the country has vanished. It is well worth watching. One cannot help but be deeply moved.
As if the tragedy of lives lost were not enough, we also have the deep, deep wounds caused to those affected by both direct and indirect experiences with abortion: the mothers and fathers themselves, along with grandparents, siblings, and friends. The fall-out is traumatic and far-reaching. A plethora of emotional, spiritual, and physical after-effects can remain for years, often causing difficulty in the normal activities of daily life and deep struggles within interpersonal relationships.
However, hope and healing are possible! God’s mercy is infinite. The Catholic Church, for decades, has been helping women and men to find peace, reconciliation, and healing through the ministry of Project Rachel. Ultimately, the healing from a past abortion is a spiritual one. Project Rachel is a diocesan-based ministry that is safe, free, and highly confidential. Priests, counselors, and pastoral care workers are specially trained to serve in this way. The Sacrament of Reconciliation is the key to spiritual healing, and the role of priests who have a particular call and sensitivity to this ministry is vital, for it is through this healing grace of the sacrament that the Divine Mercy is given and received. The healing journey can be a difficult one but is overwhelmingly worth the effort. As Jesus said to St. Faustina, “The greater the sinner, the greater the right he has to My mercy” (Diary, 723).
Saint Pope John Paul II had a special word for women who have had an abortion that he expresses so eloquently in Evangelium vitae, n. 99:
The Church is aware of the many factors which may have influenced your decision, and she does not doubt that in many cases it was a painful and even shattering decision. The wound in your heart may not yet have healed. Certainly what happened was and remains terribly wrong. But do not give in to discouragement and do not lose hope. Try rather to understand what happened and face it honestly. If you have not already done so, give yourselves over with humility and trust to repentance. The Father of mercies is ready to give you his forgiveness and his peace in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. To the same Father and his mercy you can with sure hope entrust your child. With the friendly and expert help and advice of other people, and as a result of your own painful experience, you can be among the most eloquent defenders of everyone’s right to life. Through your commitment to life, whether by accepting the birth of other children or by welcoming and caring for those most in need of someone to be close to them, you will become promoters of a new way of looking at human life.
Every January 22, hundreds of thousands of people – the majority increasingly being youth and young adults – gather in Washington, DC for the March for Life. The use of the popular social media hashtag #WhyWeMarch raises our awareness of the passion for justice and truth that is inherent in so many, motivating them to be present, to pray, and to advocate for the sacredness of every human life. In recent years, the U.S. Bishops have invited Catholics to unite in a powerful novena called “9 Days for Life” which is another tool breathing more life and energy into the pro-life movement.
But all this momentum cannot simply end on January 22nd. The work goes on day in and day out and we must ask ourselves what else can we do to help reclaim a Culture of Life?
Pope John Paul said that “Love is the fundamental and innate vocation of every human being” (Familiaris Consortio, n. 11). He also was very clear about the fact that the family is under attack today. This is what is at the heart of the evil of abortion and why Jan. 22 is so important. And while we are working to make abortion unthinkable, we must also face the reality of the issues that go hand in hand and address those as well.
The great Saint John Paul II always offers us hope and points us toward solutions. He goes on in Familiaris Consortio to tell us how to love the family: “Loving the family means identifying the dangers and evils that menace it, in order to overcome them” (n. 86). In this spiritual battle aimed at the breakdown of the family, we can identify a host of those dangers and evils, including: sex outside of marriage, contraception, cohabitation, adultery, divorce, single parenthood, poverty, and on and on.
At the root of these ills is the fracture of man and woman’s relationship. When love is not lived in the fullness of the truth that it was meant to be “in the beginning”, we are left with countless broken hearts. These wounds must be tended. It is Christ, the Divine Physician, who desires to heal us and restore this broken world. But we must cooperate with His grace. It is through conversion of heart and union with Christ that a culture of life and love can flourish. We must continue to remind people of the greatness to which they are called as sons and daughters of God. We mustn’t settle for counterfeit versions of love! Only then will we approach an end to abortion and its painfully connected issues.
May we all resolve to do our part each day to proclaim the truth about love and life through prayer, word, and deed; and may all hearts be open to the life-changing grace the Lord offers to each of us in the loving embrace of His mercy.