Busted Halo

Paulist seminarian Tom Gibbons reflects on his formation experience and his life as a seminarian right now. Along the way, some questions will be will be answered, and a lot more will come up.

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January 23rd, 2012

Bus Parking at the March For Life


People gather at the annual Vigil for Life at the National Shrine. (CNS photo/Nancy Phelan Wiechec)

You know, I probably shouldn’t say this, but on this Pro Life weekend, I really didn’t know what to say today. Every time I started to write one thing about the March For Life, two other concerns came to the fore. This was an issue that I used to look at in very black and white terms when I was younger. Then I got to a point where I could only see it in terms in gray. Now I guess I am at a point where I look at it in terms of black and white…and gray.

At first glance it’s a black and white issue, an open and shut case, there’s really not much more to discuss. And I have to say that this past October, I was given the amazing gift of two nieces — each from my two sisters — and I even got to be in the room for the birth of one of them.  During Christmas I got to hold each one of them in my arms and during that moment, the sacredness and holiness of each life could not have been more clear.

But then I was on Facebook yesterday…procrastinating from my studies a little bit…and I saw someone make the comment that the Church cares about the unborn but not about the concerns of women. At first I was a little taken aback. The Catholic Church is one of the largest — if not the largest — provided of services to those in need. Catholic Charities, Catholic Relief Services, and endless stream of hospitals and homeless shelters…those things that often get overlooked when the media discusses the Church. But then I thought about…traffic.

Buses at the National Shrine in Washington, D.C.

As some of you might know, I live over in the Northwest part of DC right by Catholic University and the Shrine of the National Basilica on 4th Street Northeast. And every year in late January the street is lined with buses as Catholics come from all over the country in order to mark the anniversary of the 1973 Supreme Court decision Row vs. Wade. Seminarians, high school students, priests, concerned parents, politicians — young and old — all descend on our nation’s capitol in order to protest and renew the call to outlaw the practice of abortion in the annual March For Life. As you can imagine, the traffic in the streets during those few days can be pretty terrific.

But I cannot ignore that January 22 is the ONLY time of the year when the streets outside of the National Basilica are jammed with buses. I cannot ignore that the streets around the Basilica are clear when bishops try to raise the issue of immigration. I cannot ignore that the streets are clear when bishops try to raise the issue of day care for mothers and families. I cannot ignore that the streets around the Basilica are clear when bishops try to raise the issue of poverty. In other words, the streets outside of the Basilica are empty on the other days of the year when bishops challenge us all to speak out against so many of the reasons many women see abortion as the only viable answer when they are facing crisis. It was then that I began to wonder if that Facebook poster — while I don’t agree entirely with the sentiment—may have also had a point. I began to wonder how many of us in the church are more concerned with proclaiming a moral high ground but not as concerned with bringing about the conditions that actually would support life.

As I held my two baby nieces this Christmas, I had to reflect on how lucky they were to be born into stable families whose parents were fully able to provide for their needs. I found myself thinking that if they someday find themselves — like so many do — in a world that only looks out for the needs of a few, they very well may be confronted down the road with a situation in which they have to decide between the horrible and the unthinkable. And I would hate for them to think that they could not turn to the Church for support and understanding because the buses are jammed in front of the Basilica on only one day a year, because that support and understanding would be needed no matter what choice they made.

We as a country have been debating the issue of abortion for more than 40 years. As long as we are perceived to care about unborn women more than we do born women, the gridlock that continues to define the abortion debate in this country will continue to stay the same. As long as we are perceived — rightly or wrongly — to care about the moral high ground more than we do about providing the care for those in need, the discussion will not move forward. Egos will stay inflated, hearts will continue to be hardened, and lives of both the born and the unborn will continue to be destroyed.  Because when the streets around the Basilica are empty on all of the other days of the year, the “mainstream media” can only be blamed so much for this perception.

Look, I’m not here to say that what’s really important are the issues of social justice and not the issue of abortion…no. It’s just that one issue cannot be separated from the other…no matter what our individual political inclinations tend to be. Unfortunately the reality in this country today is that some of us tend to be really good at some issues depending on one political persuasion…others of us are really good on other issues depending on another political persuasion… and there can be a tendency to discount the moral views of those on the other side of the aisle. The vast majority of us — including me — have particular issues where we park our buses… and other issues where we don’t. But it’s in those parts of our souls where there are empty streets where we all need to be challenged.

In Sunday’s Gospel, Simon Peter and Andrew are called by Jesus to begin a journey with him to serve as witnesses. As their journey unfolds, Simon Peter and Andrew will go to new places, they will serve new peoples, and they will be challenged and shaped…all for the greater glory of God. And it is the same with us. Because we too are asked to be witnesses, more of us need to be challenged to speak out against abortion…AND we need to be challenged to reach out and support families and women in crisis so that the unthinkable option is the only one that makes sense, so that those who are the children in our lives don’t find themselves in a situation where choosing life is not only a viable MORAL option but also a PRACTICAL option as well.

Making the world more hospitable for life will likely mean the sacrifice of our individual time and treasure as well as our communal time and treasure. But it is the path that Jesus asks us to follow. Christ asks us to challenge ourselves so that we may leave a more authentic life in Christ for ALL of God’s people, the born and the unborn. A life in Christ in which the buses are lined up in front of the National Basilica more than once a year.

The Author : Fr. Tom Gibbons
Since 2009, Tom Gibbons, CSP, has shared insights on faith, pop culture, and seminary life in the Kicking and Screaming blog here at Busted Halo. On May 19, 2012, Tom was ordained a Paulist priest at St. Paul the Apostle Church in New York City. He will begin serving St. Peter's Catholic Church in Toronto, Canada beginning in July 2012.
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  • Julie Hagan Bloch

    I agree that supporting Obama is in direct opposition to the Right to Life movement, Savanna.
    That is one of the many reasons that I will vote for Obama.

  • Savanna

    One of Obama’s potrriiies is FOCA. I refrained from political remarks during the election but after reading Fr. Pavone’s article to not comment would be negligent on my part. The election is over and done with and comments on the president elect’s position on anything is fair game. I really feel that supporting Obama is in direct opposition to the Right to Life movement.

  • DHFabian

    What we have needed from the church is the willingness to speak out to the public and politicians about poverty relief. Americans in general are very ignorant about US poverty as it is today, and the need to restore a legitimate social safety net. What the church can do for the poor in a charitable/material sense is marginal, but what they could do by speaking up about the realities of poverty today, in post-welfare America, could save many lives. They just don’t seem to want to get very involved.

  • Julie Hagan Bloch

    Bear in mind that like anything supporting a particular agenda, facts are twisted and sometimes made up to support that agenda. “It’s in this movie that I agree with, so it must be true.” Don’t be so credulous.

  • Dwayne Lewis

    Everyone need to watch the movie “Bloodmoney” this movie documents the face of abortion and Planned Parenthood. It shows how PP provides contraception to young women knowing it will fail and then same women come back to them for their abortion. Contarception FREE abortion NOT FREE. Wonderful insight is provided not only by those who have had abortions but also by people who ran or worked in abortion mills. The reality Julie seeks can be found by those that are as Michele says, “Committed and self disciplined.”

  • Julie Hagan Bloch

    Natural Family Planning doesn’t work. And contraception is not always available nor cheap. What it comes down to is this: would you rather have abortions or contraception? Saying “neither” is avoiding dealing with reality.

  • Philomena Carolan

    I do agree with the churchs teaching on abortion, I just can’t understand when you hear many women saying that it is their body, they can do what they want, isn’t it a pity they didn’t think of that before the unborn child ‘got in the way’.

    Like I have also hear and agree with this when I have heard it being said that abortion is murder of the womb, well, quite right, it is God’s creation that the child is there, even due to a rape, we don’t know what God’s plans are and why he has them in that way but, abortion should be stopped and stopped NOW!

    Thank you

  • Michele

    The Catholic Church would be hypocritical if it came out for the use of artificial birth control. It stays faithful and truthful by supporting and promoting Natural Family Planning. Of course, NFP requires commitment and self-discipline so it’s not very popular, never-the-less it is consistent with Church teaching. Also, the idea that lack of artificial birth control has led to the increase in abortions is just ridiculous. Artificial birth control is easily available and free or practically free, yet millions and millions of tiny humans die every year due to abortion – perhaps artificial birth control is not the answer we’ve been force-fed to believe it to be.

  • LA


  • Ali

    Honestly not sure where I come down on the issue of abortion, but THANK YOU for this article. I agree that we really need to respect life after birth as much as before birth, and that far fewer women would feel that abortion is their only option if there needs were more deeply and lovingly considered. I also hope that the Catholic Church ends the hypocrisy of saying that people should not use birth control, access to which would result in FAR fewer abortions…

  • Kate B

    As someone who has always been pro choice I enjoyed the article and Tom speaks to the argument well. I’ve always said many pro-lifers care about children until they’re born. At a time when services of all kinds are being cut because of misplaced budgetary priorities I will continue and I hope you will join me in making sure that there is a safety net so that abortion is not the only choice a woman sees.

  • Julie Hagan Bloch

    What I fail to understand is what is why anti-abortion advocates omit to mention that contraception is a major key to avoiding abortions. It’s very easy to go the route of saying “don’t kill the unborn”, but it’s a lot harder to justify saying “don’t avoid unwanted pregnancies”.

  • Joe

    In 1983, the late Cardinal Bernardin of Chicago developed the “Consistent Ethic of Life” ideology, which expressed his response to living in an age in which he believed modern technologies threatened the sanctity of human life. Bernardin’s CLE philosophy is sometimes called the “seamless garment of life”, a reference from John 19:23 to the seamless robe of Jesus. The seamless garment philosophy holds that issues such as abortion, capital punishment, militarism, euthanasia, social injustice and economic injustice all demand a consistent application of moral principles that value the sacredness of human life.

  • Kristi Button

    I thank you for this. I come at this issue from the other side from you and I really, really appreciate this article which brings people together for discussion and does not divide. Seeing the busses outside any place of Worship more often would be good for us all.

  • liz ortiz

    Yes Pro life and Social Justice must go hand in hand. Finally I will gladly march with you any day. As it is said Life is precious from womb to tomb. We tend to forget after the womb.

  • Mary Ann Rowe

    Great article Tom. I think you hit the nail on the head with this one.

  • Donna O’Neal

    Excellent! Article will be shared.

  • Marcia Zimmer

    Thank you Tom for making this point. We need to show women we care about them and their babies far after the babies come into the world. If we are able to meet this challenge far fewer women will feel they have no choice but to end a pregnancy. This is where being pro-life needs to go.

  • http://www.uncorkinginsights.com Mike Carlon


    A very practical perspective on this issue. In my mind, to be pro-life goes beyond the abortion issue as it must address the root causes of why people feel abortion is a desired option. I particularly like the following line, “But it’s in those parts of our souls where there are empty streets where we all need to be challenged.”

    As always, thanks for sharing your perspectives.

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