Last night at the vigil, I had an interesting encounter. It was a rainy, cool Sunday night, the liquor store closed, so we had relatively little foot traffic past us. But one guy came walking past while my friend and I were talking. I said “hello,” and he didn’t even acknowledge us. That happens sometimes, and I made the usual assumption, that he disagreed with our purpose and wanted to express that opinion without risking a discussion.
So you say a prayer and let it go.
However, just a minute or so later, he was back, and he wanted a favor. “Either of you guys got jumper cables?” he asked.
I thought for a moment. It’s always awkward when you get those kinds of requests down there. There are good safety reasons to be reluctant to go off in the dark night with a stranger. After a moment of internal debate, I said that I did, and asked my friend if he was OK alone for a few minutes while I went to help this man get his car started. Then I was asking the guy into my vehicle to give him a ride to his car a couple of blocks away.
It was a short distance. We pulled up, jumped out, and set to work on our respective hoods. Mine opened, and his didn’t. Turned out it was a friend’s car, and there was a trick to the hood. The man began to explain he’d been having a terrible week, and a terrible day. Everything had gone wrong. He was cold. He was only in town for a funeral. Now this.
After a quick call to the car’s owner, we figured out the hood and got the car going easily. The young man was profusely grateful, to me, but I think more for just having something finally go right.
I thought later about my first impression, that the guy was hostile, and how I was probably completely wrong. Whether or not he agrees with the vigil, I suspect he was simply pre-occupied with his woes. Suffering can narrow our existential horizons until we can barely lift our eyes to see anything beyond our misery.
Reflecting on it still more, I begin to think that this is profoundly connected to the vigil itself, and why the merchants for the Culture of Death are so deadly effective in their work. Many of the people seeking abortions are in just such a place of suffering, of fear, even of despair. Everything has gone wrong, and now this. When someone offers them what appears as an easy, mechanical solution, it is easy to see why it’s attractive.
In the face of this, the strongest, truest arguments don’t get very far. Although the arguments are necessary, what is really needed is love.
Pope John Paul II, in his apostolic letter “Salvifici Doloris” (“On the Christian Meaning of Human Suffering” is the English title) says this:
Assuming then that throughout his earthly life man walks in one manner or another on the long path of suffering, it is precisely on this path that the Church at all times … should meet man. Born of the mystery of Redemption in the Cross of Christ, the Church has to try to meet man in a special way on the path of his suffering. In this meeting man “becomes the way for the Church,” and this way is one of the most important ones.
It is necessary but not sufficient to demand changes to make the laws more just. It is necessary but not sufficient to meet the Culture of Death’s lies on the battlefield of reason and public discourse. Only in walking with the suffering in true love and solidarity can we lift the eyes of those seduced by the Culture of Death beyond their present fears toward true hope, which is not found in works of death but in the gift of life.
That walk sometimes means overcoming our own fears, too.