CAN WE CHANGE THE TONE – STANDING UP FOR THE CULTURE OF LIFE
BISHOP KEVIN J. SWEENEY – May 12, 2022
As we approached Mother’s Day, there was a line from the First Reading at Sunday Mass from the Acts of the Apostles that resonated with me more and more as the weekend progressed. On this past Sunday, the Fourth Sunday of Easter, which, this year, was “Good Shepherd Sunday,” World Day of Prayer for Vocations, and Mother’s Day, the last line of the First Reading told us, “… The disciples were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit .” (Acts 13:52)
On the Thursday before Mother’s Day, our Diocese and other Catholic dioceses throughout the country received information that some individuals and groups were encouraging and possibly planning demonstrations or disruptions at Mass in Catholic Churches on Mother’s Day weekend. According to media reports, the demonstrations were being planned in reaction to the leaked draft opinion from the Supreme Court, which indicated the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, would possibly be overturned in an upcoming decision ( Dobbs v. Jackson’s Women’s Health ). I am happy to report that it seems that no demonstrations or disruptions took place at any Mass in our Diocese.
We can be grateful that there did not seem to be any significant disruptions or demonstrations at Masses, at least in this part of the country, yet we have seen and heard the reactions and responses to the possibility that the “Roe” decision could be overturned. There were a number of public gatherings and demonstrations, led and organized by those who see themselves as protecting a woman’s “right to choose.” Many political and elected leaders are calling for legislation aimed to protect the right to legalized abortion. I believe that, as disciples, we should consider seriously the ways and the tone by which we communicate what we believe. We must be faithful to our witness on behalf of the dignity and value of life, from the moment of conception, but we must communicate that witness with love.
For all those who believe that human life begins at the moment of conception and those who believe legalized abortion fails to recognize and protect the life of a child in the womb, the possibility of Roe being overturned, is welcome and hopeful news. Even if the upcoming Supreme Court decision means the question of the legality of abortion is returned to the level of state law, many states are ready and have voted to overturn legalized abortion. As I have shared in this column before and as many people are aware, it is one thing to change a law; it is another thing to changes people’s minds and hearts. While it seems that a significant moment of legal progress in favor of the dignity and value of human life may be near, we should remember that we still have a very long way to go in order to build and promote a “Culture of Life,” in which all or most people can see that every child and every person is a unique and beautiful gift from God.
As I prayed and reflected on those words from Scripture, “… The disciples were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit ,” it occurred to me that this particular moment in our nation’s history, may be an opportunity for us (disciples, the Church) to promote a “Culture of Life” by the ways in which we respond to those who disagree with us. As we have seen, many people who see themselves as advocates for “women’s rights” and who favor legal abortion are focusing on the Catholic Church as one of the main reasons why the Roe decision may be overturned. It seems that, in the coming weeks (and months) the debate over abortion will likely intensify. I believe that each person of faith can make a difference and choose to be an instrument of peace and, possibly, of healing.
I am convinced that, when the history of the past 50 years is written, the Catholic Church, along with others, will be seen as a “voice for the voiceless” and as “fighting the good fight” on behalf of life. Yet, in the past 50 years of the pro-life struggle, many have criticized the Church for being “too focused” on abortion or concerned about “only one issue.” Others have misinterpreted the Church’s intentions as “anti-woman” or claimed that the Church was “only concerned about the child in the womb” and not about the mom and her circumstances, nor about the child after birth. While we would and can defend ourselves against these criticisms, I believe, perhaps especially at this moment, we need to be sensitive to and patient with those who disagree with us.
There was a movie released in 2019 called Unplanned , it was based on a 2011 memoir of the same name, and is the story of Abby Johnson, a former Planned Parenthood director and abortion advocate, who became a pro-life activist, speaker and leader. Abby Johnson’s story is a powerful testimony, both to the truth that sets us free and to the healing power of God’s merciful love. One of the aspects of the movie that I found to be most powerful and insightful was the depiction of pro-life protesters outside Johnson’s abortion clinic. In “real life,” the pro-life activists were part of a movement called 40 Days for Life , which has been a true leader in and blessing for the pro-life movement in our country. In the beginning of the movie, the pro-life protesters are portrayed as angry and aggressive, yelling at women as they enter the clinic, but as the movie and story progresses, there is a change in the tone or approach that the pro-life activists take. They become much more prayerful, gentle, and loving. When Abby finally realizes what she has been involved in, she is depicted as “walking across the street” to a 40 Days for Life office. There she encounters one of the pro-life leaders and she is received with love, compassion and support. The rest, as they say, is history.
In the coming weeks and months, as it seems that our national conversation and the often-
emotional debate on the topics of life and abortion will most likely escalate, let us strive to
respond as disciples, witnesses of our Risen Lord Jesus. As his disciples, we must always be
aware that we are called to love one another as he loves us and to remember what he teaches:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you
may be children of your heavenly father…”
If we can do that, then maybe they will say about us what they said about the first disciples, “… (they) were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit .”