And what you thought you came for
Is only a shell, a husk of meaning
From which the purpose breaks only when it is fulfilled
If at all. Either you had no purpose
Or the purpose is beyond the end you figured
And is altered in fulfilment.
I wonder if the March for Life is like that, bearing fruit quite different from what it set out to bear. At every rally on those cold mornings, speakers still mount the podium and declare that one day abortion will be repealed. I’m not sure I believe that.
What I do believe is that the March has become the biggest Catholic family reunion in the nation.
That’s at least what has stood out to me every year, since I first started making middle-of-the-night bus trips in high school. After hours of bad sleep, we’d find our way to the National Mall and inevitably run into cousins from Illinois, or religious who gave us a parish retreat, or university groups we dreamed of joining one day. So many Christians in one place, and every smile seems to have in it something of Peter’s spirit when he said atop Mt. Tabor: “Lord, it is good that we are here.” Not to defend life by making angry demands, but by rejoicing in it together!
I still go home happy every year, wondering, “Am I not focused enough on why we’re here?” Abortion is an enormous and tragic national fact, but the fruit God seems to produce from the March isn’t a watershed courtroom victory. Abortion has been legal for 44 years in our nation, and I don’t see the tide turning back. Instead, it’s the growth of the Church in America, each young generation arriving on their school buses, seeing so many peers who are also Catholic, who also defend life, and who also for the first time realize they’re not alone, not stuck in their local parishes or being spoon-fed their parents’ conservative opinions.
This is the fruit I’ve seen each year, and we might even call this a sort of “law” which guides all human affairs. Something we might phrase in a King James tongue as: “Thou shalt not bear the fruit thou expecteth to bear,” or, “Thou shalt be ever surprised in every godly enterprise.”
Marriages are that way. Spouses hope for a shared life of serene bliss, and instead God teaches them sacrifice and forgiveness and patience.
So is religious life. Dominicans often repeat a phrase to the men wishing to join us: “The reasons why you enter aren’t the reasons why you’ll stay.” We change during the process, and we stay because of fruit we didn’t expect.
And yes, the March for Life does have a political effect: keeping alive the abortion debate in our country, which also keeps in check further abortion legislation. We’d be far worse off had the issue been swept under the rug years ago and the debate not kept alive.
But I doubt our country will ever get rid of these laws. I think of the times of Jeremiah, whose own politically charged society was exiled to Babylon for her sins. The sins had continued, and there was no undoing them. We ourselves may be heading towards a greater national, spiritual exile. But as God still spoke to Israel when she had hit rock bottom, so He speaks to us: “For I know well the plans I have in mind for you… plans for your welfare and not for woe, so as to give you a future of hope” (Jer 29:11). That future will be different than what we expect. God, after all, is very different from us. He does not return to undo the past, but gives new life in the future: for the unborn for whose protection we pray, and for those already born, that they grow up to know the God who gave them life.
To live life and to defend life. To defend it by living it joyfully. To be Christians in the world, which is the same as to be joyful. Because we know by name Him who gave us life and who gives it to each and every person from the very first moment, from His own hand.
Image by Province of St. Joseph