Thoughts on a pro-life picket line

George Weigel

One of Dr. LeRoy Carhart’s “Clinics for Abortion & Reproductive Excellence” – named to yield the Orwellian acronym CARE – is located about a mile away from my parish in Bethesda, Maryland. Earlier this year, 40 Days for Life prayed daily outside Carhart’s abortuary, which specializes in late-term “terminations.” Parishioners from a number of local churches participated in the 40 Days program, hoping to save some innocent lives and to help women in crisis pregnancies find genuine care.  

Forty Days’ presence at the Carhart facility evidently did not sit well with some of the students at a nearby county-run high school. So a “pro-choice drive-by” of Carhart’s clinic was organized in mid-December: perhaps 15 cars, festooned with posters, circled the parking lot of the office complex in which Carhart conducts his abattoir. Participants in the drive-by may have been surprised that 40 Days for Life, on learning of the plans for this vehicular demonstration, invited pro-life people to conduct a rosary vigil on a sidewalk outside the parking lot, so that the “drive-by” couldn’t avoid people with a different point of view – people who were also marking the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, depicted as pregnant on St. Juan Diego’s miraculous tilma.  

My wife and I participated in the rosary vigil, along with friends from our parish, other Catholics, and a stalwart if small contingent of Democrats for Life whose presence may have shocked the Carhart supporters. It was an instructive hour, giving me the opportunity to ponder the placards and posters displayed by the drive-by people, their slogans, and the chants of a man and a woman holding up a large banner – “Reproductive Rights = Human Rights” – amidst our rosary-praying group. 

To begin with the last: it was striking that, while the 20 or so people in our group were relaxed and as cheerful as the circumstances permitted, the two banner holders were all angry, all the time. Both indulged in Che Guevara-style clenched fist salutes. Both kept hollering the inane slogan, “Keep your Bible off my body,” although it was not clear how that injunction applied to the male half of the team. (He later switched to “Keep your Bible off my Constitution,” a chant suggesting a sad ignorance of the reason-based natural law arguments against abortion.)

Then there was the content of that banner. Whatever else might be said about angry pro-abortion people (whose aggravations seem not to have been soothed by the prospect of the most radically pro-abortion administration in history), they don’t seem to have any sense of irony – or of Newspeak. For how can they claim to be defending “reproductive rights” when their entire enterprise is aimed at stopping reproduction, lethally? 

As for the student-participants in the drive-by, their behavior did not reassure me that my tax dollars were being well-spent on their education, and in a county that prides itself on the alleged excellence of its state schools. More than a few of them flipped the finger at us (and thus at the icon of Our Lady of Guadalupe that one of our number carried). Others made a point of taking cellphone videos, perhaps imagining that their new friends in federal power would ship us off to Guantanamo come January 21. One car featured a crude, homemade poster declaring “Never Going Back!” and illustrated by the hoariest of “pro-choice” symbols: a coat hanger crossed out within a circle. Their high school, I surmised, did not acquaint its students with some relevant American history, i.e., Bernard Nathanson’s testimony that, in his days as a pre-Roe v. Wade pro-abortion activist, he and others exaggerated the number of “coat hanger” abortions by many orders of magnitude. 

There was no opportunity to engage the drive-by folks. One would have liked to ask the students if they were taught in sophomore biology that the product of human conception is a human being with a unique genetic identity. Or whether they had ever discussed in class that first principle of justice, enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, which tells us that innocent human life deserves legal protection in a just society. Or if they knew exactly what Dr. Carhart did in a late third-term abortion. 

Reason rarely persuades angry people, alas. In the tough years ahead for the culture of life, compassionate witness is going to be ever more important: especially the witness of caring for women in crisis pregnancies, too often abandoned by the men who created their crises. No woman in America has to have an abortion; humane, life-affirming alternatives are available. Pro-life people must make those alternatives more visible in 2021.

COMING UP: Five tips for reading the Word of God

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Sunday, Jan. 24 marks “The Sunday of the Word of God,” instituted by Pope Francis last year and to be held every year on the third Sunday of Ordinary Time. This may strike us as odd, as we might think to ourselves, “but isn’t the Bible read at every Sunday Mass?” Certainly so. Not only that, but every daily celebration of the Mass proclaims the Word of God.

What’s different about “The Sunday of the Word of God,” however, is that it’s not just about hearing the Bible read on Sundays. As the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith notes, it “reminds us, pastors and faithful alike, of the importance and value of Sacred Scripture for the Christian life, as well as the relationship between the word of God and the liturgy: ‘As Christians, we are one people, making our pilgrim way through history, sustained by the Lord, present in our midst, who speaks to us and nourishes us. A day devoted to the Bible should not be seen as a yearly event but rather a year-long event, for we urgently need to grow in our knowledge and love of the Scriptures and of the Risen Lord, who continues to speak his word and to break bread in the community of believers. For this reason, we need to develop a closer relationship with Sacred Scripture; otherwise, our hearts will remain cold and our eyes shut, inflicted as we are by so many forms of blindness.’” This gives us a wonderful opportunity to pause and reflect on the Sacred Scriptures. 

There are two means by which God Divinely reveals truths to us: Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition. As such, the Bible is not merely a human document, nor simply a collection of amazing stories that call us to do heroic things, or a collection of wise sayings. Rather, the Scriptures are “inspired.” St. Paul has a beautiful teaching about this in 2 Timothy 3:16-17 – “All scripture, inspired of God, is profitable to teach, to reprove, to correct, to instruct in justice, That the man of God may be perfect, furnished to every good work.” By “inspired” we mean that God is the principle author of the Bible.

Certainly there were different men who physically wrote the words on the papyrus. Yet these men were influenced by the grace of inspiration to write, not just their own words, but God’s. And so the Scriptures are a mysterious congruence of Divine and human authorship – the human writers capably made full use of language, literary forms, creativity, and writing style to communicate their message, yet they did so under the grace of Divine inspiration. This means that while they wrote in such a way that they had full freedom to write as they wanted, what they wrote was also, “to a tee,” exactly as God wanted written. God is the principle author of the Bible, the human author its secondary writer. Such inspiration is how, despite the various human authors, events, and historical and cultural contexts behind the 73 Biblical texts, we’re still left with only one story since they all have the same one primary author. 

Given that the Bible is the written word of God, I’d like to offer a few “tips” for reading the Bible, since it certainly cannot be read like any other text. 

1. Pray! We must pray before opening the Scriptures for enlightenment from God. We must pray after reading in thanksgiving to God. And we must pray throughout reading in order to encounter God in Scripture and apply it to our life. Of course, the tried and trusted practice of praying the Scriptures is Lectio DivinaThe Ladder of Monks by Guigo II is the ancient resource for Lectio Divina, while a helpful book to get you started is Dr. Tim Gray’s Praying Scripture for a Change: An Introduction to Lectio Divina

2. Remember that you are in no rush. The important point is encountering Christ in the Scriptures, not racing through them. Speed reading isn’t reading, after all, much less when applied to the Word of God. It’s not about getting through the Bible, but encountering Christ therein. That may be a few chapters at a time or may actually be only one verse that you pray with. Whatever the case, slow and steady wins the race, as Aesop reminds us. 

3. We have to read the Scriptures regularly, daily if possible. We read in Psalm 1, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.” Meditating day and night. A good way to start would be to read one Psalm a night as a part of your nightly prayer. Ever better would be praying that one Psalm with your spouse, if married. 

4. Do not worry about starting on page one and reading from cover to cover. It’s easy to get overwhelmed and lost in the text. We all know about Adam and Eve, Noah and the Flood, Moses and the Plagues. But how many understand animal sacrifices in the Book of Leviticus or its purity laws? It’s very easy, starting from page one and flipping straight through, to lose sight of the story of salvation history. Start from page one if you’d like, but don’t feel like you can’t start with whatever book (especially the Gospels) that you find yourself drawn to. 

5. Come take classes with the Denver Catholic Biblical School! In chapter eight of the Book of Acts, we read of an Ethiopian Eunuch reading from the Prophet Isaiah. When the Deacon Philip asks him if he understands what he’s reading, the Eunuch responds, “How can I, unless some one guides me?” This is what we at the Biblical School are here for – to guide you in your encounter with Christ in the Sacred Scriptures. We’re in the middle of our Scripture classes already for this year, but we always start new classes in the fall every September. And in the meantime, we have plenty of things still coming for this year – a class on Catholic Social Teaching that begins on Jan. 27 a lecture series for Lent that starts on March 1, a conference on the Sacred Heart being offered on May 15 and Aug. 28, and a six-week class on St. Joseph in the summer starting in July. We have something for everybody – just reach out to us!