Simply believing in the existence of God is not exactly what I would call a commitment. After all, even the devil believes that God exists. Believing has to change the way we live. —Mother Angelica
The Church advocates for the protection of all human life, from conception to natural death, and many of us feel called to pray by abortion clinics, especially during the ongoing 40 Days for Life events.
It’s very sobering to stand in front of an abortion clinic, especially when clients are walking in. The escorts come out to get them, primarily so that they cannot be distracted by sidewalk counselors on the public walkways who are offering them alternative information, or by the people who are praying silently for them. On days when there are no clients, clinic workers will often stay there to hold signs to elicit honks from passing cars. The signs themselves can be as meaningless and confusing as “Choice” or “Pro-women” (Is this the baby’s choice? Does abortion really promote women?), or vulgar depictions of sexual organs, obscene language (I still don’t quite understand how “Hoes, not Embryos” is supportive of women), and religious bigotry. One sign that appeared this year was most provocative to me: “I am a pro-choice Catholic.” It also provided me with a deep insight into how Jesus wants us to love and teach one another.
A Conversation Between Pro-Choice and Pro-Life
Typically, a conversation between the two sides is non-existent, and the praying group simply walks silently in prayer while the clinic workers play loud music, dance around with their signs, and often make comments about the folks on the public walkway. On this particular day, however, I watched in fascination as one of our praying women approached the “pro-choice Catholic” sign-holder at the border between the public sidewalk and the clinic’s property. Kindly, she said, “Hi! What parish do you belong to?”
The sign holders eyes nervously shifted back and forth. She quietly gave the name of a local parish. The woman continued the conversation.
“Oh, that’s a great parish, and their school is good. Who is the priest there now? I knew the priest who used to be there, and he was great.”
The sign-holder relaxed a bit and stated the name of the priest and agreed that the school is good because she has two daughters there.
The woman continued, “Are you thinking about Catholic high school for them?” The sign-holder then shared that one of her daughters has a disability so she is concerned about high school. A real conversation had begun across the dividing line between a woman with a rosary and a woman with a pro-choice sign. They spoke for several minutes about Catholic high schools, inclusion programs, and the names of people who can help her daughter.
Suddenly, the clinic workers approached the sign-holder. “What is she talking to you about? Is she harassing you?” No, the sign-holder answered. “We are just talking about schools.”
During that lull in the conversation, a man from the pro-life side butted in. “How dare you call yourself a Catholic! You can’t be pro-choice and Catholic!” The sign-holder immediately stiffened and stepped back into the gathering crowd of clinic workers.
As the man darted away, the woman who initiated the conversation reached her hand over the divide and touched the sign-holders arm.
“I want to apologize for him. He had no right to judge you. No one has the right to judge what is in your heart.”
“Thank you,” replied the sign-holder, and they shook hands.
Who did more to change the sign-holders heart?
There is no doubt that the man was correct in his statement: A Catholic in good standing can never support abortion or the option to choose it. But the sign-holder would never want to listen to him again, and his approach may have stiffened her resolve. He did not want to know or love her; he only wanted to condemn her.
Love The Sinner But Say, ” Go and Sin No More”
The woman, however, was more Christ-like in her approach. Like Jesus, she sought to have an encounter with the woman and love her. She planted a seed that very well may bear fruit in the future. She has made clear that she is pro-life and acted like one who values the lives of all, including those who have turned away from the Church’s teachings. By her actions, she invited the sign-holder to join her but did not condemn her.
“Do not accept anything as love which lacks the truth,” stated St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein). This is a balancing act which we must walk each day in this world in which sin is glorified and wrong is considered right. It is difficult to even for those who are much better educated than we are. There are well-known priests who are so committed to loving the sinner that they seem uninterested in helping them to stop the sin, whether it is actively living a homosexual lifestyle, “same-sex marriage,” promotion of transgenderism, or public support of abortion. This is often very frustrating and confusing to laypeople.
On the other hand, we know that using a sledgehammer of condemnation won’t work, and will only serve to drive the person and interested bystanders farther away from the Church. We know we must be living examples of Christ’s love.
Let us pray today that we may learn the way of Jesus and begin every interaction with a loving encounter with those who sin.
For God is love, and it is only through that love that the Holy Spirit can begin to work in miraculous ways and help us to go and sin no more. Teach us, dear Jesus.