Today is the first day of the fall 40 Days for Life campaign, following the Biblical principal of setting aside forty days as a period of intense prayer and fasting for a specific goal. 40 Days for Life seeks to draw attention to and to end the evil of abortion in our society. The focus of the campaign is prayer and fasting, peaceful vigils at clinic sites, and community outreach through awareness and education. The use of a forty day period dedicated to intensive prayer goes back to Biblical times with examples in both the Old and New Testaments. The 40 Days for Life campaign is happening in 212 cities across the United States and Canada, and even one site in Denmark. As Bishop Richard Malone of Portland, Maine stated, "40 Days for Life is the work of the Holy Spirit, a divine inspiration in the ongoing effort to end the plague of abortion."
At Mass tonight I thought of how appropriate it is that the campaign is starting today, Ember Wednesday and a day of fasting. The reading from the Gospel of Mark 9:16-28 told the story of Our Lord healing the boy possessed by a demon. His disciples secretly asked Him: why could not we cast him out? And He said to them: This kind can go out by nothing, but by prayer and fasting. Surely the greatest evil possessing our society is the killing of the unborn, and clearly this evil is not going to be cast out but by prayer and fasting. And who is there to fast and pray but the people of God? It is up to us.
The other main component of the campaign is keeping vigil at the clinics. There are people who faithfully pray at clinics week after week, year after year, but there are also many, many people who consider themselves prolife yet resist this form of work. Our family began regularly praying at clinics during the fall 40 Days campaign last year. Many prolife leaders stress the importance of being a witness at the clinics, the front lines of the battle for life. During the kickoff rally last year we listened to a local prolife leader read this profound testimony of the effect of prayer warriors stationed in front of the clinic (please do read it). When David Bereit visited our campaign, he said the most important thing we can do is witness at the clinics. When we heard Joe Scheidler speak in January, he said the most important thing to do is witness at the clinics. When Fr. Pavone visited our 40 Days campaign, he said the most important thing to do is witness at the clinics. He said if hundreds and thousands of people started showing up on the sidewalks everyday, the scourge of abortion would end. Quickly.
We recently attended a prolife symposium and the speaker challenged us to examine our own views about abortion. He pointed out that everyone in the room agrees that we want abortion to end, but that is not the same as saying we want to end abortion. That involves doing something, not just wishing someone else will get the job done for us. We must be willing to sacrifice and actively work to bring about the end of the slaughter of the innocents.
One reason many people resist visiting the clinics is they want to protect their children's innocence. This is a valid concern, and one I used as an excuse for many years. But the reality is that our children are going to learn about abortion sooner or later. I know that this past presidential elections provided the unwelcome but necessary opportunity for many to discuss the topic with their children for the first time. I have come to realize that as my children grow older and gradually grasp an understanding of this most horrific practice in our society, I want them to simultaneously know how we spend our lives actively trying to end it. I don't want any of them to ever learn about it and then ask why don't we do anything about it?
I confess I also resisted going to the clinics for a long time because I thought I couldn't handle it. I rationalized that going and standing around crying like a fool wasn't going to help anything, and so I didn't go. But last fall I came to the realization that my personal discomfort was a pretty lame excuse for not going there. I was right - I can't handle it. No matter how many times we go I still get disturbed and my stomach ties in knots and I am filled with dread. But God wants us to cry, to care, and to do something about His little ones. Sometimes I wear sunglasses. Sometimes I put up my defense mechanisms and turn off my brain and just pray. Sometimes I allow myself to think just a little and I let my mind wander in behind those gruesome walls. And I know that when I allow myself to think, to feel, to weep, to ache for those women - that is when I am most able to unite my sufferings with His and beg Him to use them to bear fruit that is Life. And in His goodness and mercy He answers.
Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you - standing in front of a clinic is surely one way to have evil screamed against you, but Rejoice and be glad for your reward is great - surely there is no greater joy than when you have been standing there praying and a life is saved.
joining in this 40 Days for Life campaign. You can sign up to receive a daily update and devotional message via email, or check the daily blog. You can check the location map to see if there is a campaign near you. There is no greater witness to life than mothers with babies and families standing outside the clinics praying! Even if there are not local events in your area (and praise God if you have no clinic nearby!), you can unite your prayers and fasting and sacrifices to the cause of life for the next forty days. Please join us. For Life!