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.