A little over a week ago, I was at the opening Mass for the Vigil for Life at the Basilica Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in DC. I find these events are often very high energy and are filled with the frequent use of phrases like “culture of death” and “save the babies.”
But this Mass had a different tone. Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston pushed us to approach our opposition to abortion in a new way.
The Gospel we read was the story of the woman caught in adultery–a striking story of a guilty woman shown incredible mercy by Jesus, mercy that paralyzed the Pharisees who were poised to deliver the retribution due this woman. Cardinal O’Malley pushed us to approach mothers instead of trying to confront abortion.
He compared a woman caught in a crisis pregnancy to the woman in the story caught in adultery. Both women are likely overwhelmed with feelings of loneliness, fear, and confusion. Both women have found themselves in a vulnerable state that has been made very public. And as Cardinal O’Malley continued:
We must never allow that woman to perceive the pro-life movement as a bunch of angry self righteous Pharisees with stones in their hands, looking down on her and judging her.
For those of us in the pro-life movement, we cannot forget to see the mother who is carrying the precious child in her womb. We can’t forget that yes, we want that child to be carried to term and born, given the right to live her life, but we also need the mother to know that she too is precious and loved. The mother needs to know that she is valued, protected, and supported.
This is not to negate the value of speaking out that abortion is wrong, and that life is sacred. Cardinal O’Malley’s homily was framed by the story of the “Emperor’s New Clothes,” a story in which an Emperor is fooled into believing that his invisible suit given to him by clever swindlers is a marvelous set of clothing. Just as the child in the street cries out that his clothing is not real, exposing the lies of the swindlers, the Church must continue to witness that life is sacred, exposing the lies that the language of “reproductive rights” and “termination of pregnancy” use to cover up the brutality of abortion.
However, abortion does not happen in a vacuum. Outside factors influence and push mothers to make this choice. As Cardinal O’Malley continued: “We can rescue unborn babies from abortion by rescuing their mothers from a life of poverty and hopelessness.“
Cardinal O’Malley called us to shift the paradigm of the pro-life movement to one of accompaniment. To look at the mother who finds herself in a crisis pregnancy, not with stones in hand like the Pharisees, but with mercy and love, ready to encounter a person–a person who is suffering. As Pope Francis continually preaches a culture of encounter, Cardinal O’Malley preached that the antidote for the culture of death and individualism is community:
The truth is that we can save those babies only by saving the mothers. When they experience God’s loving mercy then they will become capable of showing mercy to their children. The Pro Life Movement has to be about saving mothers. We need to focus on the women to try to understand what they are suffering…. The antidote of abortion is solidarity, community where people are willing to care for each other and for the most vulnerable.
We must learn to walk with mothers, especially mothers who find themselves in a crisis pregnancy. A crisis is not the time to be preaching about evil and condemning, but it is a time to walk with and accompany; it is a time to encounter.
Cardinal O’Malley reminded us that God never gives up on us, will never stop forgiving us, will never tire of giving us second chances. And so the pro-life movement must continue as a movement of community and solidarity: recognizing how much God loves and forgives not only mothers who in crisis do not choose to keep their child, but also us, who when encountering crisis, do not choose to show mercy and compassion.
Our challenge from Cardinal O’Malley was to be that merciful and loving face of Christ. To defend life, to tell society that life is sacred, to save the babies, but more importantly to encounter, to accompany. To walk with our sisters who find themselves in crisis and speak their dignity through our love for them.
For the full text of the homily, click here..