My favorite time of year is not spring or summer or fall or winter. It’s Lent. I enjoy Advent and Christmas. And Easter, of course. But Lent is the season I look forward to all year. Especially since I started participating in the 40 Days for Life campaign to end abortion. There are two campaigns per year, one in the fall and one in spring. The current campaign coincides with Lent, as it did last year. This is a time of penance, fasting, prayer and alms-giving (don’t forget the alms-giving!), and spending time in peaceful prayer vigil out on the sidewalk during these forty days is a wonderful way to enter more fully into the spirit of the Lenten season.
During Lent we are to grow close to the Lord and give time to our spiritual life, to allow the Lord to cleanse us and purify us so that we can enter into the Mystery of His Passion and Cross. At no time in my life has the Lord shown me more about the spiritual life, the interior life, than during the 40 Days vigil. The Lord has shown me more things and taught me more lessons on the sidewalk than He had shown me probably in my entire life up to that point. I was pro-life before I ever heard of 40 Days for Life. I had read the Gospel of Life, the encyclical by the late Pope John Paul II and many other things, and had listened to podcasts and belonged to a pro-life prayer group. But if you rolled up all of that knowledge together, it would be a thimbleful compared to what I know now as a result of spending time in front of Planned Parenthood.
Because now I have seen women, young women, young girls actually going into and leaving an abortuary. I have seen a man beat a woman in a car for deciding not to go through with the abortion. (Yes, we did help her.) I have seen a frightened young girl who was dropped off in front of an abortuary by a much older man in the early morning cold before the place was even open. And I watched that same young girl leave the abortuary looking pale and sick and no one returned to pick her up. She had to wait for a bus and one of the abortuary escorts accompanied her to the corner. To keep her safe. From us. As if we were the ones who meant her harm.
And I have seen people go out of their way to be rude or cruel to us as we prayed quietly or silently that the women inside the abortuary would not be harmed. And I have seen people go out of their way to be kind to us as we prayed. And I have seen that our peaceful prayerful witness in front of a place like Planned Parenthood is absolutely necessary if we are going to end abortion in our cities, our country, our world.
And I have learned that saying I am pro-life is nothing compared to being pro-life. During one hour on the sidewalk — praying my Rosary, praying with Scripture, just talking with God — I can touch so many hearts and minds and I give them a living witness to what might otherwise be words they could ignore. But they have to walk by me on the sidewalk, they have to drive by me. I am there. They see me. They can glare, they can stare, they can wave or look the other way. But they know I am there. I am that little short lady whose hair is now more silver than brown. I’ve usually got my Rosary in my hands. I’m usually walking up and down the sidewalk praying, looking down at pavement, looking up at the clouds in the sky, saying hello to every person out walking their dog (and saying hello to every dog too).
With my presence there I am able to put a face on the pro-life movement, the way the women at the abortuary itself put faces on the abortion issue for me, so that it becomes no longer the “abortion issue” but real women pregnant with real babies in need of real care and real help — and in real need of prayer. And where did I learn to pray in a more intense and fervent way than ever before? In front of the abortuary when I saw a young woman go in for an abortion after another volunteer spent a while talking to her and hearing her say that she did not feel that she had a choice, that she did not think she had anyone else to turn to; realizing that she was too afraid of what her boyfriend would do to her if she did not have an abortion to listen to anything we had to say about options or alternatives. The only thing we could do for her at that point was to pray. And pray we did.
And pray we do. For all the women who go in there, seeking abortion or contraception or anything else. For all the people who work there. For all the people who support abortion, for all those who do not support it, for those who are indifferent, for those who are hateful, for those who are kind. We pray for everyone who passes by, everyone who stops, everyone who hurries past without making eye contact, everyone who crosses to the other side of the street to avoid us, everyone who waves and those precious ones who say the words, “God bless you.”
So do something different this Lent. Read less. Pray more. Devotions are good and useful. But instead of adding yet another devotional practice to your day, consider giving some of your time out on the sidewalk in front of Planned Parenthood or some other abortion mill. Instead of giving up chocolate, give of yourself. Give some time –and money, it’s about alms-giving, too, remember — to your local pregnancy center. They usually need all the help they can get!
This Lent, don’t just say you’re pro-life. Prove it.