Fr. Roger J. Landry
Putting into the Deep
October 25, 2013
It’s been 25 years since the first time I helped to save a little baby’s life.
I was a college freshmen and with a few other students and a law professor, we went early one Saturday morning to pray outside an abortion facility in Brookline. It soon became a regular practice.
There we would meet up with a few dozen people, mostly Catholics, a few Protestants and occasionally a Catholic priest. We would pray the Rosary and sing various Christian hymns.
Prior to those Saturday pilgrimages, abortion for me was an important “ethical issue.” I had written some school essays about it and even memorably debated one of my English teachers. But after going to pray outside that modern upscale death chamber, seeing pregnant girls my age enter frightened and exit childless, often pallid and in tears seared into my mind the very human reality of abortion.
A few of the women in our group were “sidewalk counselors” who would attempt to engage in conversation those heading into the facility. Some women would stop and listen as the counselors would compassionately try to help them realize what they were about to do and change course before it was too late.
We would pray when we would see the women arriving, pray even more when one stopped to talk to a counselor, and pray most of all when someone had entered, all in the hope that they might use their freedom to choose to embrace rather than end the life of the child growing within.
The fact that there was a rather large group of people peacefully praying on a sidewalk often helped awaken the women and those escorting them that they were doing something far more significant than entering a dentist’s office to have a tooth pulled.
On the first Saturday I was there, I had the joy of seeing a sidewalk counselor persuade a girl not to enter the clinic. We saw the two of them in conversation and the next thing we knew, she brought the girl over to us with a smile and told us that the girl had decided to keep her baby. The girl was shedding tears of joy and briefly told us her story.
On the way there that morning, her conscience was troubling her and she asked God for a clear sign of what she should do. When she saw all of us praying, she thought that that might have been the answer to her prayers. The compassion and patience of the sidewalk counselor convinced her.
It took a little while for the truth to sink in of what had happened, that by showing up and praying with faith and perseverance, I had helped save a life that day and helped to turn a mother’s life around. The baby whose life was spared would now be 24.
That memory always gives me hope whenever I head out to pray outside abortion facilities, as I will be doing tomorrow morning with my parishioners and fellow Knights of Columbus outside the Four Women Abortion Facility in Attleboro, on 150 Emory Street, as part of the semi-annual 40 Days of Life campaign.
It’s of course possible for us to pray for women tempted toward abortion without venturing to the place of mass execution. But there’s something really powerful about the witness of people giving up a whole morning to pray together for people they don’t know in order to try to help those contemplating abortion think about what they’re doing once more. And such pilgrimages of prayer are also quite important for Catholics to grow in their recognition of what abortion is really all about and what God is asking of us.
Several years ago I got a call from a woman who objected to a Respect Life Sunday homily I had preached in which I had encouraged parishioners to make a similar prayerful journey of faith and witness with me. “With all the sexual abuse by priests,” the woman exclaimed, “I can’t believe that you would even talk about abortion in the pulpit!”
Even though her comment was ridiculous, I thought that since she had brought up the clergy sex-abuse crisis, it could be an effective way to get her to reconsider her position.
I asked whether she thought the crisis was just about the sin and crime of the abuse itself or whether it also involved the sin of omission by all those who knew it was going on and didn’t do all they could to stop it. She said it was both. I wholeheartedly agreed with her.
I then asked if it would have still been evil if, instead of violating the children, the perpetrators were killing them instead. She said that it obviously would. I agreed with her once more.
“If abortion is the killing of an innocent child,” I then declared, “then how can doing nothing to try to stop that killing not be just as bad if not worse than thinking that sex abuse is wrong and failing to protect kids from the abusers?
“If your conscience couldn’t allow you to stand by doing nothing if you knew a child were being sexually abused, how can it permit you to do nothing when a child is being killed?”
There was silence for quite some time. Then she said she would have to think about it and get back to me. I still hope she does.
Jesus taught us in the Parable of the Good Samaritan that it’s evil to ignore the situation of someone being left for dead. If we’re going to love our neighbor, we need to cross the road, draw near and do what we can.
Tomorrow, my parishioners, Knights and I are going to cross the Diocese to be neighbor to mothers in distress and children in mortal danger. I invite you to come to Attleboro to cross the road with us.
Wouldn’t it be great if by our prayers and presence we saved a baby’s life tomorrow?