Praying in front of Planned Parenthood is one of the last places I ever thought I’d find myself. But that’s exactly where God invited me on a cold day last winter.
It was prompted by my job. The Catholic apostolate where I worked at the time was supporting 40 Days for Life, and I was charged with enlisting volunteers to sign up to pray during one-hour time slots on that particular day.
I was not supportive of our organization getting behind this project. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always considered myself pro-life. But praying outside of an abortion clinic? It just felt so, uncomfortable. Wouldn’t my going there make me a participant in the divisiveness of the cause? How does that help? And after all, isn’t prayer just as effective from my own home as it is in front of Planned Parenthood?
I didn’t know it then, but these questions were tricks that Satan was using to get me to rationalize away God’s beautiful invitation to have a profound encounter with him at the location of his choosing. I even went to my boss, and presented her with a thorough explanation as to why our organization could still be pro-life and not champion this particular endeavor. I voiced to her that to invite our participants to pray at Planned Parenthood “might make some of the people we serve uncomfortable.”
Looking back, I now realize that the person I was most concerned about making uncomfortable was me.
She told me that I didn’t have to participate, but that our organization still would.
Check that off the list. Or so I thought.
Even though I had received the outcome I wanted, I was left unsettled. It’s hard to describe the way I felt—it was a disorder of sorts. On top of it, I was frustrated and annoyed that I didn’t have the tidy sense of closure I’d expected.
I recognized the feeling: the one that comes when I don’t prayerfully ask for God’s help when he’s inviting me to do something that stretches me. The feeling grew, so I decided to go. I wasn’t happy about it, and I didn’t want to. But I knew God wanted me to.
Enter my dear friend Julia. I didn’t ask her if she would go with me, I simply told her the situation and she said she’d be there. She’s that friend.
We met at Planned Parenthood early in the morning on that chilly day. Because 40 Days for Life has a peaceful mission, ours was a gentle, prayerful approach. We said the rosary together along with another woman who asked if she could join us.
I have not been the same since.
Looking into the faces of the employees and the patients who drove right past us, God did something in my heart that completely altered my understanding of what pro-life really is. I’m not sure why it happened so intensely, but it did. No longer was “pro-life” a mere cause for me to subscribe to. It became a spirituality by which to live—one that arises from the truth of the Gospel. Pro-life is not just a matter of my mind anymore. It is an orientation of my heart.
Was I uncomfortable while I was there? At first, yes. Pope Benedict XVI spoke of the essence of such times early in his papacy: “The ways of the Lord are not easy, but we were not created for an easy life, but for great things, for goodness.”
I need God’s help to live this spirituality of life to encounter all of the goodness that Christ offers. Sometimes I fall. And when I do, he helps me back up.
God offered me a sacred invitation to pray for the most innocent victims among us at a location that made me uncomfortable. Looking back, I’m fairly sure the invitation wasn’t because of what I could do for the people for whom I was praying. I think God invited me there because of how much he knew it would do for me, so that I could better live the Gospel of life.