After we march, let's minister to body and soul
Just one verse each day.
Now in its 43rd year, the March for Life has grown from several dozen to several hundred thousand men, women and children who brave the elements to stand up for those in our society who are the most vulnerable. I am relatively new to the pro-life movement. In my late 20s I hesitantly admitted to myself that I was pro-life. It was at first an uncomfortable affirmation and one I didn’t voice aloud for a couple more years. I didn’t grow up going to the March for Life, and, like a lot of the practices I’ve taken up as an adult, I often face the temptation not to follow through.
Yet as much as I may often prefer to stay in bed on some of the colder January mornings, I nonetheless (and sometimes begrudgingly) join the hundreds of thousands of others because being pro-life requires enfleshed practices. As Fr. Zossima reminds the wealthy women of little faith in The Brothers Karamazov, love is a bodily encounter, given and received incarnate actions of proximity — it is a harsh and dreadful thing compared to love in dreams.
We march because our concern for the unborn and their mothers and our solidarity with them strains to find bodily expression. I cannot kiss them, or hold them, or bind up their wounds because they are no more. But the desire to stand in solidarity with those whose lives have been lost to abortion remains. This desire bears the cold, it bears the snow, it bears the occasional cursing of those who disagree with us, it bears sore legs and long bus rides, little sleep and maybe even the disapproval of our families and friends, because being pro-life is not simply an intellectual assent but a way of seeing the other as a gift. Such a vision of the way things really are will always cut against the grain of power and efficiency. But this is the call of Christians in every age: to go to those places where humanity is vulnerable and wounded, those places marked by hostility to life and to embrace it. We march because we are called to be concrete signs of witness to the beauty and dignity of the fragile among us.
We march because we desire a society where it is easier to choose life, where children find welcome, a society that provides the resources women and men need to raise their families, where equality doesn’t require sacrificing the young or the old. We march because children disproportionately endure the scourges the world inflicts upon them: poverty, disease, war, abuse and death. Children bear the burden of humanity’s failures. They are collateral damage in war and the victims of human trafficking. They are disposed of as medical waste before their first smile, before they gaze into the eyes of their mothers, before they shed a single tear, before they draw a first breath. We march because we know that to create a society where it is easier to choose life requires embodied practices. The March for Life is one such practice and a crucial one.
Cultivating hospitality to life requires the daily, concrete practice of encounter. Here are six further suggestions:
- Support families. Offer a night of free childcare to your friends or neighbors. Do this regularly.
- Have a Christ room. Dorothy Day, the co-founder of the Catholic Worker Movement, advised that every home should have a room dedicated to Christ, noting the early Christian practice of having “a room kept ready for any stranger who might ask for shelter.”
- Practice a consistent ethic of life. Parish pro-life ministries and social justice ministries should have regular contact and conversation. Christian witness to life will not fall neatly along American political lines. The sacramental life of worship enfolds us into the logic that knits together all “life issues.” In Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis echoes all of Catholic social teaching when he insists that protection of the lives of the unborn holds a primary place in the Church’s teaching on human dignity because “Defense of unborn life is closely linked to the defense of each and every other human right. It involves the conviction that a human being is always sacred and inviolable, in any situation and at every stage of development. … Once this conviction disappears, so do solid and lasting foundations for the defense of human rights, which would always be subject to the passing whims of the powers that be.” Early pro-life activists knew well that a society that fails to defend its most vulnerable members will increasingly find itself unable to justify the fight for better working conditions, for the rights of workers, for the poor.
- Start an adoption ministry in your parish. Parishes should regularly promote adoption, praying for couples seeking adoption and children awaiting adoption, taking up collections to assist with the financial costs of adoption, and offering ongoing support for adoptive families.
- Spearhead a parish meal program to bring meals to families when a new child arrives, when a family member is sick or when a loved one passes away.
- Practice the works of mercy. Each month take up one of the corporal works of mercy and dedicate yourself to enacting Christ’s command to love God and neighbor.
Jessica F. Keating, M.Div., is the director of Human Dignity and Life Initiatives in the Institute for Church Life at the University of Notre Dame.