Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me. As kids, it was our first-line defense against the inevitable “Jerk!” “Spaz!” “Dope!” or other name that came firing out of someone’s mouth. It still comes in handy now that we’re older.
For the last fourteen Octobers, our parish has placed a display on its front lawn. It’s made of about 8,000 sticks first cut to size and then painted white. They’re assembled into almost 4,000 crosses standing in neat rows. The finished display looks like a military cemetery, and that’s the point. The display symbolizes the unborn victims of a raging culture war. Why almost 4,000? It approximates their death toll. Not yearly or monthly. Daily.
This year our local online newspaper reported on the cross display. Unlike most local stories, this one drew over 100 comments, many hostile. “Hypocritical.” “Holier than thou.” “Annoying and unsightly.” The parish should display a cross “for every child ever sexually abused by a priest.” The Catholic Church “supported the Nazis” and “turned its back” on six million Jews. The Crusades were evil. Even Mother Teresa came under fire. One comment was pulled as too offensive. The more respectful comments were still pointedly against the display. God gave women a free will to choose, and “even God is pro-choice.” Life begins when a baby is delivered; a woman is free to choose abortion until that moment. God forgives and may have come to an understanding with a woman. Catholics should be less judgmental and more understanding of experiences. But even though negative, the comments were welcome. They are barometers of attitudes that we must shift.
Contrary to popular myth, pro-life morality is not a Catholic invention. Abortion is not an evil merely because the Catholic Church says so. Abortion is an evil because it violates the most fundamental of all human rights: the right to life. When Cain killed his brother Abel, Cain knew he did wrong even though he did not have the benefit of Catholic moral teaching or even the Ten Commandments. He knew his sin because of the law God had written deep in his heart. It’s the natural law—the moral sense that allows us to discern through reason what is good and evil, truth and lie. It is written in the hearts of all people regardless of religious affiliation, if any. The natural law tells us that it is wrong to kill an innocent human being.
But what of free will and God’s being pro-choice? In God’s love, He has given us a free will so that without compulsion we can choose to seek Him. Freedom is God’s gift by which we choose to seek what is good and holy. But freedom is not an end in itself, a license to do whatever we wish. If it were, then we should repeal not only anti-abortion laws but also all laws restricting us. We should be legally free to steal, cheat, lie, abuse drugs and alcohol, and engage in sexual conduct when, where, how, and with whom we please. Of course, that misguided view leads to anarchy and to oppression, as history readily proves. Was a slaveholder exercising freedom or oppressing slaves? Was Hitler exercising freedom or killing millions? Both were acting within their country’s laws. As to abortion, so are we.
Are Catholics being judgmental towards people whose experiences we do not know? No one is judging the women and men involved in the decisions to abort. That is for God. Instead, we are merely saying that their personal situations do not justify abortion. May out-of-marriage sex justify killing a human being? May we kill in order to improve prospects for a job promotion or to save a job? Is it permissible to kill a developing baby because we have too many other children or too little money? What we judge is the existing attitude that abortion be used to solve a personal problem.
Some say that because God forgives, we have no right to speak about legal abortion. God certainly forgives all sin, even abortion. But we may never use God’s willingness to forgive as a justification for committing sin. When Jesus saved the adulteress from a stoning, He told her to sin no more. Likewise, we are calling women (and men) to make the better choice: life.
That choice helps women. It comes back to the natural law. Almost 40 years ago, six Supreme Court justices erased the country’s abortion laws. But they could not erase God’s law. After two generations of being told that abortion is a right, women still know in their hearts that it is a wrong. Today many post-abortive women lead shattered lives, unable to calm minds and souls filled with the regret and guilt from killing their own children. They face higher suicide rates. Post-abortion depression is common and long lasting. Women become filled with anger and lose trust in people. Abortion is a significant cause of breakdowns in marriages, friendships, and relationships of all kinds. Post-abortive women often resort to drugs and alcohol abuse to mask their pain. Legal abortion has itself been the cause of death or physical injury to countless women. After all, nothing that has death as its object can ever be safe.
We have the truth that will debunk the lie of legal abortion. We must be willing to say it. When we do, we can be assured of stone-throwing in return. There will always be people who don’t understand or don’t want to understand. That must not deter us from speaking the Truth. We need not be perfect in order to do God’s work. Jesus chose twelve nobodies to be the Church’s first leaders. His apostle to the Gentiles had been complicit in the murder of one of his first saints. Yet they succeeded because they remained faithful to Jesus, the One Who died on the real cross. The One born of Mary.
Imperfect though we are, we have been called. Imperfect though we are, we will speak.