January 22 marks the 43rd anniversary of the tragic legalization of abortion on demand in our country via two Supreme Court decisions, Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton. For the forty-third year, hundreds of thousands will be gathering in our nation’s capital to urge our elected officials to end the senseless killing of unborn children. Last year, an estimated half a million people peacefully gathered for the March for Life, yet, secular media coverage of the event was effectively non-existent.
Many may wonder: what is the use? Is the March for Life really merely an exercise in futility? After all, despite the hopes of those involved in pro-life work in the 1970s, Roe and Doe have not been overturned and abortion is still legal. Listening to the secular media can easily cause one to despair at the trajectory of our nation on many levels. In the face of this reality, however, the March for Life is greatly successful and is a sign of hope for the Church.
A Youthful Presence
Anyone who has attended the March for Life will remark at the number of youth in attendance: parents with their children, schools groups, parish youth groups. Side-by-side with “veteran” pro-lifers who have fought against abortion from the very beginning, is a tremendously powerful young presence. From our Archdiocese in St. Louis this year, we are sending over 2,400 youth and young adults to the March for Life. It is in the presence of these young people that is a sign of hope.
Certainly young people are increasingly pro-life. Polls show that “support for making abortion broadly illegal” is growing fastest among young adults. Advances in technologies such as 3D ultrasounds that allow people to see the unborn child earlier and research demonstrating that fetuses can feel pain early on have allowed a greater knowledge of the humanity of the unborn child.
There is also a greater appreciation that they are, in fact, survivors of a national tragedy. Depending on the year they were born, anywhere from 25% to 33% of their peers are missing because of abortion. They recognize that they are missing classmates, friends, coaches, and teachers. Because of this, they feel compelled to put an end to the destruction caused by abortion. And yet, they also understand the gift of life that is theirs. It is because of this that the young people participating in the March for Life truly radiate joy, hope, and energy.
Handing on the Faith via the March
Perhaps the greater hope witnessed at the March for Life is a visible sign of the faith being passed on to the next generation. At the very least, participants are forced to put their faith in action, at least in some small way. There are undoubtedly many other places they could be that would be more comfortable than walking in the frigid D.C. weather. Many participants make significant sacrifices to attend, including making up missed school work and working to earn money for the trip. In choosing to make these sacrifices, these young people are professing a belief that the all life is worthy of respect.
Moreover, in participating in the March for Life and the surrounding activities, young people gain a deeper appreciation for the Church’s teachings on the sanctity of life. Some are energized by the presence of thousands of others who are also pro-life. Some are sobered by the realities of what abortion is and what it has been doing to people. Some are stirred to action as they return to their schools and parishes. Without a doubt, all are changed by the experience and comprehend more deeply their identities as Christians.
That we are able to hand on the faith to the next generation through the March for Life is not a minor detail. Catholic writer Caryll Houselander observed in her book, This War is the Passion:
We are in the world now as Christs; in the midst of this storm. We are here to keep Christianity alive, to keep Christianity pure, intact, to ensure by our own lives in Christ that the gates of hell shall not prevail against Christendom.
While Houselander was writing about the struggles faced by Christians in England during the Second World War and the daily fear of being bombed and exhaustion of basic supplies, her words remain applicable in our world today. Handing on to the faith to the next generation has greatly changed over the course of the last hundred years. No longer is it expected that a child will continue to practice the faith of their parents once they become a teenager – assuming their parents practice any faith. No longer do we live in a society where practicing one’s faith is normal. There is a true battle to keep Christianity alive.
It can be easy, however, to think of this battle in corporate terms, that is, the battle between the Church and secular ideals. The true battle, though, and one that is oftentimes neglected, is the battle for each individual soul.
This is why the battle for the faith is being won through the March for Life.