Austin was my Golgotha.
Standing outside of the capitol on July 12, 2013, passing out water, I was one of the passersby – one of the individuals who could help, but wasn’t in the thick of things. From the capitol building, I could hear chants and screams of ProAborts rallying in the rotunda. Sometimes the ground shook from their chanting. I knew that it was loud in there, and even standing in the 100 degree heat on the scorching tarmac, I didn’t want to go inside – despite the fact that there was AC in there. Every time the doors of the capitol opened and a burst of unadulterated noise broke into the open, I felt as though a wave of evil passed over the Austin landscape. Orange shirts outside sneered and laughed, and I always felt as though some dark force was looming over the Texas capitol – despite the fact that there wasn’t a cloud in the sky.
Around 3 pm, my phone rang. 3 pm. The hour Christ died.
“We need a LifeTape team in the Rotunda.” Brendan, my boss, said. That was my signal. Our team gathered up our few belongings and headed towards the capitol building. I didn’t think much – all I thought was “I’m needed there.” So I went.
When we got to the doors of the capitol, the noise became almost deafening. Opening the door, a mixture of cold air and the cacophonous symphony of screaming and chanting hit us full force. We walked in, got through security, and walked up to the rotunda.
That’s all I could see. Orange. A moving, monumental blob of screaming, chanting, stomping, clapping, sign-waving, orange. The noise was even more deafening in the rotunda. I cannot describe to you, or anyone, the absoluteness of that noise. It got into your bones. Your ears couldn’t feel pain it was so loud. Your ears couldn’t even really hear it, it was so loud. It shook the building. It rose and fell in an odd, almost creepy cadence. The rhythm kept the momentum, and the noise became its own being. It was no longer human made, it was not lead by humans; it was its own master. The noise led the people. The noise guided the energy in the room. The noise was not at the service of the people; the people were at the service of the noise. You either became a part of it, or you fought against its controlling power the entire time you were in the rotunda. Those participating in the noise looked almost dead – their eyes lifeless, or, if they did have life, it was an angry sort. The sort of life in their eyes reflected nothing but anger, pain, hurt, and hatred. Those who became one with the noise became the rhythm of the noise – their bodies moved eerily to the beat of the chanting. They swayed back and forth, or stomped in time to the omnipotent music it created.
Every fiber of my being was terrified. It wasn’t the sort of terror that comes from a horror movie, nor was it the terror you might get from heights, roller coasters, the fear of someone you love dying, or the terror of claustrophobia. It was the undeniable, unquestionable, fundamental, understanding that I had walked into the middle of something very, very evil. For those of you who sidewalk counsel, you will understand the feeling I mean when I say “it was like going to Planned Parenthood.” That empty, dark, cold, evil feeling that leaves you drained and sucks the hope out of you. It was like that…. only a million times stronger, and so, a million times worse.
On the outskirts of one side of the blob were a few dots of blue, and I made my way towards the friendly color – my team following close behind. A group of blue shirts hung around Thomas, a Pro-Life leader in the Austin area, who was frantically making LifeTape and passing it out. I grabbed some, slapped it on my mouth, and began to make more for the team. At some point Thomas disappeared, and it was just me and the group of blue. The other blue shirts in the area decided to go to the 4th floor of the rotunda, and slowly they disappeared. We stayed. The 6 of us. We stayed in the middle of that hell on earth.
Standing in the screaming crowd, I realized it would never do us good merely to stand there. If we did, we would wear out before 15 minutes was up. But, what was more, I recognized that there was an incredible need for grace in that dreadful place. More than anything that we needed, the orange shirts needed an outpouring of the Holy Spirit. We needed to fill that room with the grace and love of the Father, the saving power of the Son, and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. I grabbed my rosary, got the other 2 Catholics there to get theirs, and we began praying.
But there was that noise. That sick, evil, deafening, autonomous noise. It seeped into your every fiber – the chanting drowned out even your own thoughts so that the only thing you could think were the words the crowd chanted incessantly. I focused harder than I’ve ever focused in my life and began the rosary…
“I believe in one God, the Father the Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth…”
“WOMEN WILL DECIDE OUR FATE”
“And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, Our Lord…”
“NOT THE CHURCH, NOT THE STATE”
“Who was conceived of the Holy Spirit…”
“WOMEN WILL DECIDE OUR FATE”
And slowly, I began to make it through the rosary. Half way through the Apostles Creed I realized… we need to kneel. I lowered myself down to the cold, hard, marble floor of the Texas capitol. The others in our group also kneeled, other blue shirts who came into the rotunda joined us, and we knelt in solemn prayer on the marble.
And then, prayer came more easily. I finished the Apostles Creed, searched for the beginning of the Our Father, and began our Lord’s prayer. The Hail Marys came easier then, too, and finally, half way through the first decade, I no longer heard the screams of the rotunda. I no longer felt the pulsing presence of that amorphous, all-controlling, noise. I began to relax, and suddenly the screams came flooding back in “WOMEN WILL DECIDE OUR FATE! NOT THE CHURCH NOT THE STATE! WOMEN WILL DECIDE OUR FATE!”
It hit me like a brick wall. I crumpled to the floor. The noise was all around me. Deafening, pulsating, controlling, stifling. Picking myself back up, I realized there was no option to relax. If I even began to let my guard down, to let my focus slacken, I would be overcome by the noise. I closed my eyes and resumed the rosary, offering myself up to the guardianship of the saints and my guardian angel, that I be protected from the pulsing noise.
An hour passed. The chant had changed several times, trying new attempts at breaking the wall of prayer, at destroying my concentration, at making me forget the words I know so well. I fought and remained vigilant… trying to keep my focus on God. Periodically, ProAborts would come over and pose next to us with ProAbortion signs to take pictures, the media took several pictures – the flashes of their cameras behind my closed eyelids startling me and breaking my concentration.
Another hour passed. The noise continued to battering-ram itself against my concentration. Against my focus. Against my prayer. Several times I faltered and the noise overcame me.
“Hail Mary, full of grace…” and I started again.
I measured time by the slow metering of Hail Marys.
“Hail Mary, full of grace…”
At 7 o’clock food arrived for the Pro-Lifers. We sent people down in shifts to eat. I stayed in the rotunda. ProAborts were tossing tampons around in sling shots and home-made trampolines.
“Hail Mary, full of grace…”
7:30, we sent more people down for dinner. I stayed in the rotunda. “OUR BODIES! OUR LIVES! OUR RIGHTS TO DECIDE!”
“Hail Mary, full of grace…”
At 8, another set of people went to eat. “OUR BODIES! OUR LIVES!” “Hail Mary, full of grace…”
At 8:30, 5 hours after entering the rotunda, I got up to get dinner. My knees were locked in place. They were flat and cold. I could barely walk down to the office to get pizza. My ears rang with the noise of the rotunda. As I walked down the halls of the capitol, a wall of exhaustion overcame me. My very soul felt as though it were going to collapse. Just as I was lost to describe the noise of the rotunda, so too am I lost to describe the utter fatigue that plagued my very essence. Breathing seemed to take work. My soul was almost numb, my ears screamed with protest at the beating they had received.
I arrived at the office, grabbed some pizza, and collapsed on the floor. I would take a break. I would rest. I would give my body, mind, and soul a chance to recuperate. I would give myself the chance to rebuild some of the supplies I needed to deal with the rotunda. I settled in for a 30 minute nap.
At 8:45 – 10 minutes after I got to the office – we got the call to go back to the rotunda. “We need all the blue shirts we can get right now!” Somebody called. I hoisted myself up, grabbed my rosary, and left for my post.
As I knelt, looking around the rotunda, images of Christ’s death at Golgotha kept flashing into my mind. The mob in the rotunda screamed and cheered for death – death of innocent children, spiritual death of the mother. The mob laughed at those who stood by, helpless to stop, there to bear witness. The mob sneered at those who presented themselves with love to love. The mob swore at those who were there to be the only ones who would love those women and babies.
How like Golgotha it must have been. Mobs of hurting, angry, people who loathed, sneered, jeered, spit at, and laughed at our Lord simply because they were hurt, simply because they did not know His love. At Golgotha, Christ hung on the Cross, ridiculed, despised, mocked, while all He did was present Himself with love to love those who attacked Him so.
Christ hung on the cross by Himself. Only Mary and John bore witness to the horrendous suffering and death He experienced. So too, the blue shirts found themselves alone – the only witnesses of the horrendous death taking place. The death of souls, the physical death of children, the spiritual and emotional death of the woman…. witnessed by only a few, small, college-age kids in blue shirts.
How like Golgotha, too. That these people screamed and cheered for human rights – they argue for the dignity of the woman, they cheer for the hungry in Africa, and want to help the needy inner-city kids go to school. They lay their palm fronds at the feet of human rights and children, only to turn around and scream “CRUCIFY HIM” a moment later. The very innocent people that the ProAborts should want to protect they attack, confusing the innocent for the guilty, releasing Barabbas instead of Jesus.
Just as Christ died alone, denied by those who loved Him so, so too women find themselves alone with a crisis pregnancy. Their families and friends, the movement that they turned to for protection abandoned them and so they decide to pursue an abortion because there is no other choice. The children killed in abortion die alone in the womb, with no one there to witness their death, no one there to love them but those who stand outside of the abortion mill and pray for them. No one but those who knelt on the rotunda floor and prayed.
And, just as Christ prayed “Forgive them, Father. They know not what they do!” So I began to realize…neither do the ProAborts. They don’t truly know that the person in the womb is a child. They don’t know that the pain of abortion will linger with these women for the rest of their lives. They stomp, and chant, and scream for abortion rights because they know not what they do. In the rotunda, I became incredibly aware of Christ’s love for these people and the pain He feels that they deny Him so. I hurt for them, because they would kill Him…. and without truly recognizing what they were doing – “Whatever you do to the least of these, you do to Me.”
So I prayed for them, for a conversion of heart and mind in them, because they are the ones who cannot be comforted. The pain in their eyes cannot be eased, the anger cannot be pacified, because the only one who can ease their pain, pacify their anger, is the one they hate, the one they crucify.
And I pray that someday, those trapped in the culture of death will recognize the promise of the culture of life and turn to the open arms of the Pro-Life movement. Arms that wait to welcome them, help them, and say to them “Peace be with you.”
Image credit: AP