In just three days, Catholics across the country will begin praying, fasting and going on pilgrimages as part of a united spiritual effort to loosen the grip of the culture of death on our beloved country.
This prayer campaign will have a powerful impact, even if it initially goes undetected. I think, for example, of the story of Abby Johnson, the former director of the Planned Parenthood clinic in Bryan, Texas, who left her job, became pro-life and then later joined the Catholic Church.
The initial catalyst in her decision to leave Planned Parenthood was her experience of being physically present during an abortion. But she also credited the prayers of the 40 Days for Life campaign taking place at her clinic as an instrument in her decision.
As the 41st anniversary of Roe v. Wade approaches, Jan. 22, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is launching a novena campaign called Nine Days of Prayer, Penance and Pilgrimage, in which I urge everyone throughout the archdiocese to participate.
The campaign will run from Jan. 18-26 and involves saying a prayer for nine consecutive days, making daily acts of reparation, and going on pilgrimage. Of course, the largest pilgrimage will be the National March for Life in Washington, D.C., which I will personally participate in along with some of the students of Bishop Machebeuf and Holy Family High schools. The organizers are also offering local suggestions for pilgrimages, such as prayer in front of Planned Parenthood clinics, visiting the Cathedral Basilica, and going to eucharistic adoration in a local Church.
Besides helping save unborn children and changing hearts, this effort is important because it helps restore the sense that every person’s dignity comes from being made in God’s image and likeness. It reinforces the love of God for the human person from the moment of his or her conception until natural death.
When a culture rejects God, it also inevitably rejects life and love—life becomes cheaper and more dispensable.
So when we participate in this time of prayer, penance and pilgrimage, we are also emphasizing the Christian belief that we are more than a complex assortment of chemical reactions and we come from God. The fact that we are made in God’s image and likeness means we are made for love, that our souls are immortal and made to be in communion with God, and that our intellects and wills have a spiritual capacity that the rest of physical creation lacks.
Sadly, this full understanding of human dignity is disappearing throughout America and the West.
The fruits of a society that has forgotten God are evident in the discussion we hear surrounding abortion “rights.” Those who support abortion call it a “women’s right,” but upon closer examination its claim to being a right is based only on the insistence that it is one. There is no transcendent truth or power to these claims, as there is with true rights, such as the rights to life and a dignified existence.
In 1994 Blessed Mother Teresa underscored the terrible consequences of disconnecting God from the idea of human dignity when she filed an amicus brief for two cases about abortion that were before the U.S. Supreme Court.
The “so-called right to abortion has pitted mothers against their children and women against men,” she lamented. “It has shown violence and discord at the heart of the most intimate human relationships.
“Human rights are not a privilege conferred by government,” Mother Teresa insisted. “They are every human being’s entitlement by virtue of his humanity. The right to life does not depend, and must not be declared to be contingent, on the pleasure of anyone else, not even a parent or a sovereign.”
In other words, these rights are not the product of whims or an exercise of power, rather, they have a divine foundation.
On the whole, American society has cast aside this truth in favor of rights that are determined by the trends of the moment.
We must work to resurrect the understanding that true rights are those that are derived from God and are in harmony with his will. One way we can do that is by participating in the Nine Days of Prayer, Penance and Pilgrimage Novena.
Without God, cultures become ugly, and they open themselves up to the tyranny of what is most convenient or pleasurable.
This is not God’s design, which is inherently good, true and beautiful. God’s will is that every person be accepted, welcomed and loved by society. Let us work and pray so that our beloved country does not lose this gift.
9 Days for Life: Prayer, Penance, Pilgrimage
Join the U.S. bishops in the Nine Days of Prayer, Penance and Pilgrimage Novena (www.9daysforlife.com) from Jan. 18-Jan. 26, which includes intercessions, reflections and suggested acts of reparation for each day. Acts of reparation are ways of atoning for a wrong. The following are examples from the novena.
Intercession: For elected leaders who oppose any restriction on the abortion license: May God allow them to grasp the brutal violence of abortion and the reality of post-abortion suffering experienced by countless women and men.
Our Father, 3 Hail Marys, Glory Be
Acts of Reparation (choose one):
• Go to confession—today, if possible or during this week.
• Fast from snacking today. Eat three meals only.
• Today, go visit an adoration chapel and spend an hour with Jesus.
Suggested local pilgrimage sites include the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, 1530 Logan St. in Denver (open Mon.-Fri. 6 a.m.-6 p.m., Sat. 6:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m., Sun. 6 a.m.-8 p.m.; west entrance always open) or the memorial to the unborn at Sacred Heart of Mary Parish cemetery, 6739 S. Boulder Road in Boulder (always open).