During Lent, I’ve often meditated on what role I would play in Christ’s Passion. Would I be Simon of Cyrene, helping to carry Christ’s Cross? Would I be one of the holy women accompanying Him, Veronica wiping His face? I certainly hoped that I would never be one of the soldiers reviling Him, the people taunting Him or those yelling, “Crucify Him”. I’m fairly certain, however, that at times I’ve been Pontius Pilate.
In her newly released memoir Redeemed by Grace, former Planned Parenthood manager Ramona Trevino traces the story of her gradual realization that by working at a Planned Parenthood she was cooperating with the evil of abortion. She knows this to be true, even though the clinic she managed doesn’t actually provide abortions.
Ramona remembers clearly, though, the day she first referred someone for an abortion. She tried to rationalize the action—saying that the young woman would have chosen an abortion anyways—but she felt traumatized by the event. But then, she says, “I went on doing my job as I had been trained, and as further abortion referrals came in, it wasn’t long before I had nearly forgotten about my little emotional breakdown. Like Pontius Pilate, I was just fine with washing my hands of that first abortion referral and all those that would follow.”
Ramona’s story isn’t quite as dramatic a conversion as someone like Bernard Nathanson or even Abby Johnson. But it is for this exact reason that I found myself identifying with her story. She was born Catholic, she married in the Catholic Church, she believed in God. Yet, she found herself in a situation where she either had to cooperate in the killing of children or leave a job that provided for her family and had a good title and decent hours.
Of course, Pontius Pilate recognized that he was cooperating with evil and did nothing about it. He said to the crowd, “Then what shall I do with Jesus called Messiah?” They all said, “Let him be crucified!” But he said, “Why? What evil has he done?” He knew that the people wanted him to crucify an innocent man. At the same time, resisting them would have made his life more difficult so, “When Pilate saw that he was not succeeding at all, but that a riot was breaking out instead, he took water and washed his hands in the sight of the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood. Look to it yourselves” (Matthew 27:22-24).
In many ways, both big and small, we are faced with the dilemma of Pontius Pilate and of Ramona. Countless organizations and individuals must decide whether to comply with an HHS Mandate, requiring that insurance pay for contraception, sterilizations and abortion-inducing drugs. Business owners must decide whether or not to participate in same-sex “marriages” by providing services such as baking wedding cakes or arranging flowers for the ceremony. At first glance, it is easy to pass the buck—as Pilate did—to wash our hands of any responsibility we might have by not resisting these things. But, as Ramona recounted about the day she finally closed the door on Planned Parenthood, it is only when we fully align our actions with our consciences that we are truly free.
At times, it seems that it is too much effort to follow through on our beliefs about the dignity of all human life. If I stop and think about it, that means I need to be sure that charities I give to aren’t actually funding abortion, I need to take responsibility for the media I consume and I need to not just say that I care about mothers in crisis, I need to actually reach out to them.
Right now, I cannot help but think of those 21 Egyptian martyrs who died with the name of Jesus Christ on their lips. How terrifying, how brave and, ultimately, how freeing. We know that those men chose eternal life even in the face of a terrible, grisly death. Lately, when I’m tempted to act like Pilate and walk away from more challenges, I think of these men.
Their startling witness strengthens me. Perhaps, through their intercession, I will have the strength to be more like Simon carrying Christ’s Cross, more like Ramona who not only left Planned Parenthood, but has begun to advocate for the lives of the unborn. As Catholics, we have been given the fullness of the truth about the gift of life, but with that gift comes the responsibility of cherishing, protecting and advocating for it.
This Lent, Egyptian Martyrs, pray for Us.