I went to a meeting this week about 40 Days for Life, a nation-wide effort that takes place twice a year to pray for the end to abortion. It’s a beautiful and unique campaign in that it relies on the good-old Judeo-Christian practices of prayer, fasting, community outreach, and vigil. You won’t find anything but peaceful presence in the campaigns — no shouting, no arguing, no political activism (although there’s a proper place for political activism, of course). Instead, the campaign focuses on helping women and men affected by abortion — praying for everyone involved (the men and women, their families, the workers at the abortion mills, etc), fasting for an end to abortion, and reaching out in concrete ways to help men and women who have been told they have “no other option.”
After the meeting, I realized that the key to this is presence. A key component to the effort is to keep vigil in front of the abortion clinics — peacefully praying, sidewalk counseling (if one is trained), and being there to support the men and women. One of the men at the meeting pointed out that when we try to get people to sign up to pray, people will tell us, “I pray at home.” He proceeded to explain the importance of presence.
I wish I would have taken notes — that’s how rich his explanation was. But at the heart of it was that our presence in front of those mills is important. Yes, we can pray at home, and yes, our prayers are heard by God regardless of where we pray. But Christ taught us the importance of presence. Could He have saved us in another way? Sure — but He didn’t. He chose to become flesh and dwell among us, on this earth. He chose to “pitch His tent” — to be present among us. For thirty years of His life, He wasn’t performing great miracles or making a splash preaching. He was sanctifying life in Nazareth with His presence. Today, He continues to be present to us in the Eucharist.
He chose to make Himself vulnerably present — as a baby in Bethlehem, as a man condemned to death, and under the appearance of bread.
The women who walk into that clinic often feel alone. Trapped. Unsupported. Alienated. The mere presence of people standing and praying can change hearts. Many people at the meeting shared stories of saves — of times when people turned and left the clinic before having the abortion. At times it was due to the sidewalk counselors, who spoke to either the boyfriends, husbands, mothers, or fathers of the girls, or to the girls directly.
Many times, however, there was no spoken exchange. The girls walking in saw us praying, singing, smiling. And they left- at some point in the appointment- got in their cars, gave thumbs up to us, and drove away.
The danger in our culture today is the growing sense that the threats to life and marriage are “normal.” Abortion is thought to be accepted by the mainstream; if you believe it’s wrong, you’re in the minority. This is not the case. This is what the press and the proponents of abortion would like you to think.
But if we aren’t present — if we convince ourselves that we don’t need to go out and witness– there will be no reason to think that our society actually disagrees with abortion. There will be no one to tell the girls they’re not alone. If we’re not out there — who will be? Are we frightened to put ourselves out there? To witness and take a stand, regardless of the cost (whether it means standing in the heat, getting yelled at, or being seen by friends while we’re standing there being “radical”??). Are we worried about being vulnerable?
I was speaking to someone who attended a prolife rally today. You know how many people from the local community were there? Three. Five or six, tops. That’s embarrassing, to say the least. Who would think that society was pro-life? Do we just assume someone else will be there and we can stay home? What message are we sending when we decide it’s too hot outside to witness?
Yes, you can stay home in your comfort zone and pray. But are we being asked to do more?