Monday, January 27, 2014

Pro-Life and Pro-Francis

Even after more than 40 years, the issue of abortion is still palpably painful in our nation.  Despite efforts of both sides to articulate reasons for their strongly held positions, it has become more and more clear that the issue is ultimately a matter of not of the "head" or of intellectual arguments, but of the heart.  My heart, that is.

From a pro-life perspective, the question of abortion hinges on transforming hearts.  But my heart first. 

This seems to be the broader context for some of Pope Francis' concerns about how and when Christians should talk about abortion, as well as his own staunch defense of legal protection for the unborn:  Are we speaking the truth with love?  Are we expressing our love and concern for women in crisis pregnancies from the perspective of the truth that we all share in common--that is, our own brokenness and sinfulness and need for redemption? 

The abortion issue requires that Christians see life from the perspective of Jesus' heart.  After all, Jesus died of a broken heart.  Yes, physical torture and crucifixion were the proximate causes of his death--the kinds of things that would have made a coroner's report.  However, starting with his agony in the garden, through his betrayal and denial by his closest followers, to his prayer for each of us while hanging on the Cross--"Father, forgive them for they know not what they do" (Lk 23:32)--, Jesus' heart was torn open by our abandonment and rejection of his love.  My abandonment and my rejection, that is.

So, if abortion is an act of rejecting God's love, of snuffing out the gift of life, of imposing my will upon another--and if it all too often involves the psychological coercion and isolation of the mother-to-be--, then the question becomes this:  When have I rejected God's love, snuffed out life in another through word or deed, forced my agenda, coerced others to serve my purposes, or left others isolated and abandoned?  Even if I have neither directly participated in an abortion nor indirectly supported them, the fact is that I have done worse.  My sins have broken Christ's heart.  (And if I have been a participant in an abortion, have I accepted the fact that there is hope after abortion, or am I continuing to break Christ's heart?)

But the Good News is that, while I was still a sinner, Christ reached out to me.  This is my starting point for entering into the pain and suffering of others.  My pain and my suffering have been transformed by the crucified and risen Lord.  He is the source of my experience of forgiveness and redemption, my healing, my peace.

Like every other hot-button issue of human brokenness, abortion is first and foremost a matter of Jesus' Sacred Heart.  If he died of a broken heart, then even more certainly he rose with a Heart of Mercy which longs for each of us.  Icons and statues show Jesus' Sacred Heart literally bursting out of his chest, reaching out to us.  This is the message that Christians need to share with women who face crisis pregnancies:  The Lord is here for you, and there is hope; Christ's body on earth, his Church, is here not to judge or condemn, but to walk with you.

Two of my nieces and nephews recently represented our family at the 40th March for Life in Washington, D.C.  The pro-life movement has increasingly become a youth movement, and the youth of today are anything but judgmental of others.  Yet by the tens of thousands, college and high school students across the country are boldly announcing that their generation will be the one to end the scourge of legalized abortion in our country.  They know that rejecting casual sex and living counter-culturally in a "hook-up" world goes hand-in-hand with changing the conditions which so often lead women to consider abortion.  They are willing to walk the talk, and they certainly understand Jesus' imperative, "Stop judging, that you may not be judged" (Mt 7:1).

In closing, if you haven't had a chance to hear it yet, please check out Cardinal Sean O'Malley's Homily at the Annual Vigil for Life.  It is a powerful and poetic weaving together of different motifs--from a pro-life and pro-Francis perspective.  Cardinal O'Malley speaks the truth with love, encouraging us to be honest in admitting when the "emperor has no clothes."  He also challenges us to consider walking in the shoes of another.  Like Pope Francis, he speaks "heart to heart." He reminds us that, "Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do"; after all Jesus, our Divine Physician, "did not come to call the righteous but sinners" (Mt 9:12-13). 

This Gospel of Life can alone bring us the peace and the joy which the world cannot give.  Our pro-life mission, in turn, is to bring this peace and joy to the hearts of all those we meet.