“Not Called to Do Everything, but Called to Do Something”: A March for Life Reflection

I had never participated in the annual March for Life before January 25, and I have to admit, I’d been a bit nervous about attending for the first time.  Don’t get me wrong, the Catholic Church’s consistent prolife ethic, “from conception to natural death,” is one of her teachings which I find at once fully coherent, tremendously countercultural, undeniably Scriptural and personally challenging.  And I have seen many examples of the commitment of so many Catholics to a vision of human life as a “seamless garment,” a phrase from John 19:23 taken up by pacifist Eileen Egan to describe a holistic reverence for life’s sacredness and the consistent application of an ethic of life on issues such as abortion, capital punishment, militarism, euthanasia, and social and economic injustice.

A few examples of seeing the “seamless garment” ethic at work jump to mind.  I recently attended a fundraiser for Lighthouse Women’s Center, a state-of-the-art, licensed medical center in Denver working in cooperation with Catholic Charities to offer

free ultrasound imaging, pregnancy tests, and counseling services to women facing unexpected pregnancies.  I appreciate that their mission also includes creating a warm and confidential space and that their counseling resources are also available to “boyfriends, spouses, family and friends who are navigating these important decisions alongside the women in their lives.”  I worked alongside lay and religious volunteers at Denver’s Catholic Worker Thrift Store, whose pro-life work was to offer homeless customers a dignified place to procure affordable and clean clothing, while selling higher-priced antique items to a wealthier clientele to support this effort, as well as Denver’s Catholic Worker house and partner soup kitchen.  I have also been inspired by many pro-life Catholics working to reverse the systemic injustices that aggravate many of these same issues, such as my friends Mike and Mary, who do advocacy work

 to address some contributing factors related to homelessness, especially among veterans and those suffering from mental illness.  And finally, during my time in rural South Africa and Zimbabwe, I witnessed the commitment of faith-filled Catholic lay people, religious, and clergy to running efficient NGOs and schools for the protection and support of life.  And all this in communities where some of the world’s most vulnerable lives stand in the balance, such as those closely affected by the HIV/AIDS epidemic and living in tremendous poverty and especially those little persons referred to in development programs as “OVC’s” (Orphans and Vulnerable Children).
So what was I nervous about attending the March? Looking back, when the opportunity came to join the 600+ Notre Dame, Holy Cross, and St. Mary’s group at the March for Life, I was unsure what kind of people I’d encounter there, especially in my peer group of late teens and twenty-something’s.  In speaking with them about being pro-life, would their concern for issues of life begin and end with the unborn?
Encounter after encounter surprised and humbled me. I spoke to Mary, a friend from grad school, on the long bus ride.  She shared with me about a week last summer in which she and her family (10 of them in all!) committed a week to a Habitat for Humanity project in Pennsylvania.  Somehow managing to find my younger sister and her high school contingent along the route to the Supreme Court Building, I met one of her teachers, a graduate in Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) program, a service-through-teaching program seeking to sustain and strengthen inner-city and under-resourced Catholic schools.  I saw my friend Shane, an ND undergrad, chanting with a big group as he marched, “Hey, hey, ho, ho, Roe v. Wade has got to go!”  Just two days before, I’d seen him speaking with a representative from Big Brothers, Big Sisters at a volunteer service fair about becoming a Big Brother.  I’ve also admired his commitment to riding his bike and taking mass transportation whenever possible out of environmental concern.
In short, I didn’t encounter many Marchers whose strong anti-abortion stance did not extend to a concern to promote what Pope John Paul II called the “culture of life.”  It was incredibly encouraging.  And those young people and groups (such as the Sisters of Life, who were at the March in full force!) who feel called to focus their efforts around the abortion issue are desperately needed in the Church as well.  With 55 million abortionsin the U.S. to date, and its legalization spreading around the globe, it is certainly an issue about which we cannot stop being deeply concerned.
I’m reminded of the wise words of Sr. Biddy, one of the wonderful women religious with whom I lived in community in South Africa.  She often quoted John 14:2 as anaffirmation of need for and providential design of the differences we find in spirituality, charism, and social concern among members of the Church: “In my Father’s house, there are many rooms.”A while back, Brian paid tribute to the legacy of the late Archbishop Joseph Cardinal Bernardin.  He gave a wonderful lecture at St. Louis University in 1984 entitled, “A Consistent Ethic of Life: Continuing the Dialogue.”  I’ll end with his words, which sum up fittingly the challenge posed by the “seamless garment” ethic of life, one that was reaffirmed and strengthened for me and many of my friends at the 2013 March for Life:

“A consistent ethic does not say everyone in the Church must do all things, but it does say that as individuals and groups pursue one issue, whether it is opposing abortion or capital punishment, the way we oppose one threat should be related to support for a systemic vision of life. It is not necessary or possible for every person to engage in each issue, but it is both possible and necessary for the Church

as a whole to cultivate a conscious explicit connection among the several issues. And it is very necessary for preserving a systemic vision that individuals and groups who seek to witness to life at one point of the spectrum of life not be seen as insensitive to or even opposed to other moral claims on the overall spectrum of life. Consistency does rule out contradictory moral positions about the unique value of human life. No one is called to do everything, but each of us can do something. And we can strive not to stand against each other when the protection and the promotion of life are at stake.”

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