Babies are being killed in my city of Vancouver today. And soon the Irish will say the same about their cities. As I reflect on Friday's vote of some of the Irish people to abolish protections for the youngest, most vulnerable in the Emerald Isle, I think about those who fought so valiantly for a different outcome and what they must be wondering:
"How could this have happened?"
"What about all the prayer and fasting--why didn't these work?"
"We tried so hard."
These reactions take me back to an experience I had last October. A friend reached out to me because one of her business associates was pregnant and planning an abortion. I messaged my friend tips for what to say. Then we spoke on the phone at length about how she could appeal to the heart and mind of this woman. Then my friend met with her, listened and shared. My friend even offered to adopt the child. And of course we prayed. Hard. The morning of the scheduled appointment we didn't give up. We went to the site of the clinic before it opened to bring prayers of light to a dark place, hoping the Holy Spirit would hold her back from killing her child. Then we went to Mass, calling further on the intercession of Almighty God.
I wish I could tell you she chose life. I wish I could tell you her baby was newly born. I wish I could tell you the woman has sung the praises of my friend for saving her from a deadly choice. But that's not what happened. Instead, on the eve of All Saint's Day, a tiny soul nestled safely in her mother's womb was detached and starved by a chemical abortion, ultimately to be flushed down the toilet.
And we, like the pro-life Irish are now asking, wondered,
How is it possible? We tried so hard. We did so much. We called on God. We believed. Why didn't it work? Why do some interventions save some lives and others don't?
I don't have all the answers. But I do know this: There is no appropriate alternative to trying. We won't have to give an accounting for what others did, but we will have to give an accounting for what we did (or didn't do) to "love the least" (Matthew 25).
When I studied the abolitionist movement led by heroes like William Wilberforce and Thomas Clarkson, and read in-depth about the inhuman cruelty of slavery, I remember thinking, "Not much has changed in our world. We have simply switched one victim group (Black people) for another (pre-born people); but victimization still exists. Since Cain killed Abel humans have been killing others." In light of this reality of the human experience, the questions each of us are left with are the questions that the robbers, the Priest, the Levite, and the Samaritan were left with when they came upon a fellow traveler on the Road to Jericho (Luke 10:30):
*Do I hurt this man?
*Do I ignore this man?
*Do I help this man?
A gang chose to hurt. Two chose to ignore. Another chose to help.
We don't know if the robbed victim ultimately survived. We know he was taken to an inn and cared for; we know that the Samaritan pledged to return to cover the expenses of further care. But we don't know if this ultimately led to the victim's restoration of health. But we do know who helped, who harmed, and who ignored. We do know the example we are to follow, regardless of the success of the effort. Perhaps that's what St. Mother Teresa meant when she said, "God has not called me to be successful; He has called me to be faithful."
That's essentially what the late Fr. Richard John Neuhaus said over a decade ago, and which I shared on my Facebook the morning of the Irish referendum results:
"Hope is a virtue of having looked unblinkingly into all the reasons for despair, into all of the reasons that would seem to falsify hope, and to say, 'Nonetheless Christ is Lord. Nonetheless this is the story of the world. Nonetheless this is a story to which I will surrender myself day by day.' Not simply on one altar call, but as the entirety of one's life, in which every day is a laying of your life on the altar of the Lord Jesus Christ being offered up in perfect sacrifice to the Father.
"And will we overcome? Will we prevail? We have overcome and have prevailed ultimately because He has overcome and He has prevailed. There are days in which you and I get discouraged. On those days I tell myself — I suppose almost every day I tell myself, sometimes several times a day — those marvelous lines from T. S. Eliot's 'East Coker,' where Eliot says, 'For us there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.'
"For us there is only the trying. The rest is not our business. Some people read those lines as lines of resignation, kind of shrugging your shoulders and saying, 'What can you do?' But I read them as lines of vibrant hope. The rest is not our business. The rest is God's business.
"Thank God, we are not God. Thank God, God is God."
And so, for those "fighting Irish" who fought with such commitment, courage, and love for the youngest among us and who are now tempted to despair, know this:
As you stand on the edge of your Emerald Isle turning red with the blood of innocent children, continue to make the God of St. Patrick your God and entrust the transformation of your country to Him. This is your Road to Jericho and in this moment you are to ask, Do I harm? Do I ignore? Do I help? And then continue to choose the one thing you chose leading up to the referendum, the one thing you can control: Choose the way of the Samaritan and help; then leave the results up to God.
Image Source: Wikimedia Commons. Composite of three pictures showing countryside near Stratford, County Wicklow, Republic of Ireland on June 12th 2005. Photographer: Harald Hansen.