40 Days for Life: Standing Athwart History


William F. Buckley Jr., the patron saint of American conservatism, famously described the mission of his magazine, National Review, as “stand(ing) athwart history yelling ‘stop’”.  The pith of this quote is an easy glide through self-deprecating caricature into political imperative and then deep into psychological-spiritual truth.

The Truths of Progress

Of course to dissent from the great sleep-walk which is modern progressive historical consciousness is to look absurd.  For the modern, the truths of progress are more obvious than nose on your face or the manhood or womanhood beneath your nose.  The dizzying parade of new technology is a transfixing testament that what is newer is better and that nothing – NOTHING – is absolutely true.  An icon of All-American wholesome breakfast cereal masculinity becoming Kaitlyn, was a logical necessity in the triumphant march of progress, crushing under heal everything – EVERYTHING – which had been understood as obvious, natural and true. As a culture we are totally – TOTALLY – ready to drink the Kool-Aid.

Our disconnect from natural law is so complete that even our most basic drive, a drive that extends all the way down to single-celled amoeba, the drive to preserve our own lives and perpetuate our species, is up for grabs. Actually it is worse than that.  It is more than up for grabs, it is viewed as virtuous for the elderly and the handicapped to have themselves euthanized, and for two generations it has been a key tenant of the progressive creed to support the killing of babies in the womb by abortion.

All that we create is a reflection of us and a mirror through which we see ourselves, and the one truth which abides all as we drive back and forth from the big-box store to the recycle bin, is that newer is better.  Therefore, we idolize youth and disdain the aged.  We do everything imaginable to avoid the once-esteemed robes of aged wisdom, but the one thing we must do – MUST DO – is suppress the birth of children, because as soon as we have children we cease being children ourselves (having children marks the end of those strange twenty and thirty-something man-child vacations at Disney).  Technological progress creates progressive ideology which necessarily includes a war against the children who would supplant our desperate attempts to cling to youth.

Are We Lost?

While some argue that the culture war has been lost, if we are to act as if the war is lost, that is, surrender, we ourselves will be lost.  In fact, it is only now that it is becoming all-out war.  Progressive ideology now demands an ideological hygiene that is demonizes Christianity, or even dissent.  In the face of this, we must become resolved.

This leads to the third and most important dimension of Buckley’s pithy call to arms; the psychological-spiritual necessity of standing up and speaking out.  The ambient culture is so pervasive it is like a bath, or a pot in which we boil like frogs.  Acclimatization is a non-willed physiological response.  To attempt to dissent silently is impossible, the cognitive dissonance is too great.  Psychologically and spiritually we must recite our creed, we must profess what we know to be true or we will lose the truth with which we have been entrusted, we will implode.

Our Lord went into the inhospitable desert for 40 days, fasting and praying in a deliberate and overt struggle between the flesh and the spirit.  The desert was not a retreat.  It was stepping out into the field of battle.  In Lent, in small ways we join Christ.  One of those ways should be through participation in 40 Days for Life. This group is a prayerful witness in front of abortion clinics across America and around the world.  Thousands of Catholics, fellow Christians and people of good will stand in prayerful witness.  First of all, as Christians we know that this is necessary because ours is not a god of vague, deistic indifference.  God is intimately engaged with each of us, following us closely like the Hound of Heaven in Gerard Manley Hopkins’ beautiful poem.  And He requires and responds to our prayers.

Secondly, we must do this because as surely as there is maleness and femaleness, there is divine justice and there is an economy of salvation.  I have a responsibility in proportion to the blessing I have received.  Right now I am sitting beside a pool in Florida, watching my youngest son swim like a dolphin. Our family has enjoyed peace and abundance.  But with blessing comes responsibility.  This morning before mass at San Marco Catholic Church, Deacon Mark Leonard spoke passionately and unflinchingly about abortion.  He urged us to support crisis pregnancy centers and set before us our responsibility to participate in 40 Days for Life.  Most young women in a crisis pregnancy are too frightened and confused to look forward to sitting by a pool, watching their child swim.

We all know what the earliest eugenicist promoters of abortion knew, that abortion preys disproportionately upon the poor and those in unstable situations.  They don’t see a way forward, and they might not even really know what they want.  Young mothers in a crisis pregnancy often struggle with an internal dissonance, pitting a deeply ingrained cultural hostility to children against a natural and good maternal instinct.  Our witness can make the difference between choosing life and choosing death.  Amazingly, 383 (as of this writing) babies are alive today during the current campaign, because of the witness of people like you and I at 40 Days for Life.  It is our duty to be there.

We Must Participate

Finally, we must participate in 40 Days for Life because if we do not speak the truth we will be swallowed up by the lie. We must stand athwart history or be swept up by it.  Of course there is no yelling stop at 40 Days for Life.  But there is a prayerful witness more voluble than the loudest yell and more resonant than the most compelling argument.

Saint John Paul the Great enjoined us to “become who you are”.  It was a puzzling exhortation, calling us to eagerly participate in God’s construction of each of us. We are not passengers in our life’s journey, each of us is in the driver’s seat, but too often we remain in park, idling in the driveway. The longer we anxiously sit, the more our anxiety self-reinforces into a paralyzing fear.  We must give voice to our thoughts or lose them; we must put legs on our good works or become paralyzed.  As St. Irenaus said: “the glory of God is man fully alive”.

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