by Bishop Allen H. Vigneron
Remembering Roe v. Wade –
a call for prayer and penance
Dear Friends in Christ,
In the life of every people or nation there are events which serve to mark the reach of both the lights and the shadows at play in their history. About the lights they are proud; about the shadows they are ashamed.
In the history of the American people, we are justly proud for the level the light reached on the day the Declaration of Independence was signed and the hour when the Emancipation Proclamation was issued.
On the other side of the ledger, we are right to be ashamed of the shadow that was cast by the Supreme Court’s 1857 Dred Scott Decision, claiming that Blacks were chattel, not citizens, and by the Court’s 1973 Roe vs. Wade Decision, asserting analogously that prior to their birth children are not citizens and lack the most basic of all rights, the right to life.
This year the anniversary of the Roe vs. Wade Decision falls on Monday, Jan. 22, the day this issue of The Voice is published. Because of the profoundly hurtful impact this event has had on our nation, all of us need to consider how we mark this anniversary.
Last Saturday, Jan. 20, the Third Annual Walk for Life West Coast was held in San Francisco. It was a clear and peaceful witness to the sacredness of human life and an affirmation that no court or people can take away from any human being, no matter how small or powerless, the God-given right to life. Before the Walk, Mass was offered for the participants in St. Mary’s Cathedral.
While the Walk for Life was not a partisan political event, it was a way to fulfill our duty as citizens of this age and it had qualities that are proper to such a gathering. However, the liturgical norms for the United States for Jan. 22 open up a field for our response that is much wider in scope, one that carries us to a different level of acting – carries us to the level of supernatural action.
Here is what the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, n. 373, says: “On this anniversary of the Supreme Court decision Roe vs. Wade (1973), this day [January 22 ] shall be observed in all dioceses of the United States as a particular day of penance for violations to the dignity of the human person committed through acts of abortion, and of prayer for the full restoration of the legal guarantee of the right to life.”
This particular Church law makes remembering Roe vs. Wade part of the liturgical year itself for Catholics in the United States, part of the very rhythm of feasts and commemorations that include days like Christmas and Easter and All Souls and the memorials of our patron saints.
And this liturgical norm specifies the actions called for: here, not walks or demonstrations or letters to our leaders, but penance and prayer. Recall, it is our Lord himself who said that there are evils which can only be dealt with by prayer and fasting (cf. Mark 9:29).
To respond to legalized abortion by penance and prayer is to confront this evil at the deepest level of faith – at the level where the grace Christ won on the cross works most mysteriously.
So, even though you or I might not be complicit in legalized abortion – in fact some of us have been exemplary, perhaps even heroic in defending the right to life – all of us must do penance for this evil.
The crime of spilling so much innocent blood stains the whole society, and we are part of this community. Therefore, even if justice would not require that you make atonement for this evil, charity calls for it. Christ was sinless, but he bore the burden of our guilt. We, who are members of Christ, must shoulder the weight of our nation’s guilt and make expiation for it.
Every Catholic, then, ought to do some form of penance on Monday, Jan. 22 – or on one of the days to follow — to ask God to deliver our beloved country from the evil consequences which inevitably follow from the decision of our laws that permits the taking of millions of innocent lives.
Ask the Holy Spirit to direct you to the form of penance that will please him. One such penance, performed individually or corporately by a parish, RCIA or prayer group, might be a financial gift made to one of our East Bay pro-life pregnancy help centers, easily found in the Yellow Pages under the heading “Abortion Alternatives.”
I suggest that you also consider the time-honored traditional practice of fasting and abstaining from meat.
And along with this penance we must pray. We must pray ardently for God’s grace to work a change. To change the hearts of those who work to keep abortion legal.
We must include in our prayer all those who have been touched by the evil of abortion, whether by performing it, or by procuring it or just by passively going along with it. These neighbors of ours – including our brothers and sisters within the Catholic household of faith – particularly need the assistance of our prayers, because, while the preborn victims of abortion have been the object of a terrible injustice, those who participate in this evil are even more to be pitied. Their state, if unrepented, is far worse.
Yet above all, let us remember that nothing lies beyond the great power of God’s Mercy. Let us pray that those wounded by a “choice” to abort may know the power of Divine Mercy, which touches and heals even our deepest wounds and most painful memories of sin.
We must pray for renewed strength for all who work to end legalized abortion; particularly let us pray that in this fight we will always act with that humility and charity that lets the power of Jesus Christ shine through his instruments.
I particularly recommend that you consider praying the Rosary for these intentions. I have no doubt that Our Lady’s intercession was the decisive influence in the peaceful dissolution in 1989 of the Communist tyrannies whose power seemed to many to put them beyond the possibility of change. We witnessed then the power of prayer, and we will see again what prayer can do to restore the order of truth that is the basis of human dignity and right.
To conclude I want to share with you a letter, a copy of which I recently received. It comes from a young Christian woman to one of her co-workers who was filled with anxiety at the prospect of an unwanted pregnancy. It is a marvelous example of the virtues we aspire to live out in our defense of the right to life. And it is a great source of encouragement to know that in the next generation God is raising up such fine workers in the pro-life cause. Here’s the letter:
I am writing this letter to you so as to encourage you to choose life for your unborn baby (if you are pregnant). I know you must be terrified by the thought of having another child. This is not because you do not love babies; but because you do not know how you will provide for the new child.
About 2000 years ago, a Virgin in Jerusalem was faced with the same problem. However, she trusted in God and he provided for her. Life is so great that the child born by this Virgin is still remembered today. Just think about it. If Mary refused to bear Christ we would have never been saved.
Your baby may not save the world, but he will be able to do great things for God. If this child is not given the chance, who will fulfill this part of history? This part in the play of life was given to this child and this child only. If he does not fulfill it, no one will and his role will go unplayed.
If you do not want the child, please give him/her to my family; we will lovingly provide for him/her. I love you and your unborn baby and this is my motive for writing you. It is love, not condemnation.
If you need financial aid, I can put you in contact with an organization that specializes in that area. Please choose life and give your baby a chance. I love you and I am praying for you.
We serve the Lord of life, whose victory over death is total and lasting. Let us never lose heart.