Imagine, if you will, 90 St Paul Catholic High School students getting up at 4:30 in the morning, packing their cars, and rushing off to meet at a convent and hop on a bus no later than 6:00 AM! Why on earth would they do such a thing?
Go to a show? – No
Support their high school basketball team? – No
Find fun and adventure while checking out a college? – No
The truth is that they were pilgrims, and they went on the March for Life in Washington, DC!
That’s right! St. Paul Catholic High School students, 90 of them, aged 14-18 gave up two full days to journey from their homes – mostly in the Archdiocese of Hartford – to journey down to Washington DC, to publicly participate in the 45th Annual March for Life.
As one of the chaperones, as one of their teachers, I was amazed by the cooperation and reverence of these young people, by their participation and their compassion.
After a bus ride of 8 hours (including a lunch stop), the kids hustled off the bus so they could get registered in the hotel – then back on the bus to go to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. There, St. Paul students attended Mass, and the overflow site in the Crypt Church overflowed so much that there were literally TV’s in every side chapel of the shrine.
Kids and adults filled every nook and cranny: in the aisles, on the floor, in the doorways – wherever there was the slightest bit of room, pilgrims packed the grand church. With literally thousands of people, there remained an air of reverence: stillness, silence, and prayerfulness.
After Mass, we reassembled outside the Basilica, boarded the buses and then headed back to the hotel for pizza and much needed sleep.
The next morning, Archbishop Blair celebrated Mass for us pilgrims. To say he was impressed and pleased by the turnout, especially the St. Paul High School representation, would be an understatement. Following Mass, we ate breakfast together. During breakfast, our students heard from an impassioned speaker who put our purpose into words.
Roused by Reasons
Rev. Paul Scalia spoke eloquently to our students. If the name sounds familiar,
that’s because his father was the late Supreme Court Justice, Antonin Scalia. He addressed the questions you may have asked yourselves already, “Why are these kids marching? Why should they care or be involved?” Father Scalia receives the credit here for the framework of these points. There are a few things within each of his points, however, that came to mind as I reflected on his talk.
The Five Reasons We March (Really Six)
Injustice: As a people of faith we march because we have recognized a grave injustice that has been committed against an entire class of people. These are the voiceless, innocent, unborn. We march because we are advocating for the voiceless, so that at the time of judgement, we can say, “I did what I could.” There are those who say we are marching against abortion, that we are anti-abortion. That is only partly true. Any time we stand against something, there is also a “pro”, what we are standing for – and that is the respect of the life of the unborn.
We must remember that the first right enumerated in the Declaration of Independence as inalienable and God-given is the right to life.
Witness: In advocating, that is giving voice to the voiceless, we speak to:
- The ignorant: those who do not know what they do or what is happening, to them we present the truth they did not know existed.
- The deceived: those who have been lied to and do not know the truth, to them we expose the lies that have been told and shine the light of truth on them.
- The ignorers: those who know something is wrong but remain unmoved, to them we draw their attention to the issues at hand and call them to make a decision and take a stand.
- The promoters: those who take an active part in providing, procuring, promoting, permitting abortion, to them we prick their conscience by telling the truth and bringing the truth right to them.
While it is true that we march to effect change in policy, procedure, and law, our hope is not just to change these, but more importantly to change the hearts and minds of all people.
Community: We are not alone. Our march allows us to see that we are together in our compassion and love for all human life, from conception to natural death. The beauty of this march is that it isn’t just a “Catholic thing,” although, as Catholics we are called to be ardently pro-life. There were people of other religious persuasions, and some of no religious persuasion. We were greeted on the streets by a pro-life delegation from France; another from Australia crossed our path. We were led in prayer by an Orthodox Christian prelate and stood next to a Jewish pro-life group on the National Mall. So, in this gathering, in this March, we were strengthened and encouraged to continue the good-work we are doing to support life back home. We also march to express solidarity and gratitude for all those who have already so nobly advanced the cause of life.
Mercy: Not only are we serving as a witness, “instructing the ignorant” or “admonishing the sinner,” both of which are works of mercy, but as we march, we stand beside those in need of healing. We were joined by those who once doubted and by those who did not choose life. For them, marching brings consolation and healing. Our marching alongside them helps ease their misery of heart (their Misericordia), God uses us, our presence, our walking along side them to ease their suffering and allows them to witness to the truth as well.
Together, we live out the true call of mercy which is repentance, reconciliation, and redemption.
Commitment: Once we publicly stand, we are called to continue to stand. Otherwise, we fall silent in the face of injustice. Our commitment is to love and to justice. Love saves lives. If we love someone, we must, by definition, actively seek out their well-being…they can only be well if they exist at all. Our daily lives must be a continuation of the March. Otherwise, we are but a “noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.”
Prayer: Our marching is prayer in action. I know that Jesus said to pray in private. That’s what he taught his apostles, but it isn’t all of what he told them. Consider what James said in his letter, “faith without works is dead.” If we pray that all life will be respected but do not put that prayer into action, advocating for life ourselves, are we not like those whom James chided saying “If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,’ but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it?” So too, if we proclaim and pray the Gospel of Life and then take no steps to advance it, what good is it? Thus, in our marching, we step forward in action. St. Paul challenges us to pray at all times and in all ways in more than one of his letters, and so with our hearts, minds, and bodies, we pray as we march.
And So, We Marched
We arrived together as the St. Paul Catholic High School community and as an archdiocesan community. We soon learned that we were an inter-denominational, interfaith, and international community coming together to give witness to the gift of life and to its Author. Together we walked, not a long march, perhaps a little over a mile.
We Marched in Love
Perhaps the greatest aspect of our march, animated by our prayer, is that we marched in love, for love. We marched for love of God. We marched for the love of the unborn. We marched for the mothers struggling with difficult decisions and situations. We marched not in anger or hatred, not with belittling nor demeaning but in love and mercy. We marched in love for the saints who have advocated and worked for life and in love of the sinners (which is really all of us) who have neglected or denied the very sanctity of life and its Divine Author.
Next Steps in the March
Our students’ march did not end when they got of the bus at 12:15 in the morning on Saturday. That was just another step – off the bus and onto another part of the journey. Now they will write prayers, reflections, and/or letters to editors or to Congress. Some will participate in drives to support crisis pregnancy centers where mothers will be given real options and solid information. Others will join our Pro-Life Club, or perhaps their concern for life and human dignity will lead them in other directions.
Why did we March?
- To promote justice
- To give witness
- To be in community
- To show mercy
- To affirm our commitment
- To pray
The prophet Micah wrote, “He has shown you, O man, what is good, and what the LORD requires of you, to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God (Micah 6:8)."
Why did we come?
- Because we love God
- Because we love life
- Because each life matters
- Because at the end our lives we want to say, “I did what I could.”
What about you?
Did you march, would you march – even if you can’t or couldn’t get to DC?
What steps can you take to affirm the sanctity of life?
I invite you; I challenge you to stand up and take even one small step.