“I don’t have to go to church, I can pray anywhere”, so they say. Yes, we have all heard that sappy line for decades. It’s the ultimate in narcissism; an admission that no other human is necessary for the communion between an individual and God. Just me and God. Yep, God and I have a direct line. I thought about him last winter, while I was watching the sunset in Negril. It was awesome, but then off to the buffet. They had a sandpit pig roast that night.
Even for the casual believer and unchurched, place is important component of prayer. Natural settings, building and sites induce emotion. The site of the World Trade Center in New York is now abuzz with new construction, and rebirth. Yet, the place is still evocative of painful emotions that this country has never witnessed before. The site is losing the emotion it once had when it was smoldering rubble, or just a hole in the ground. Commerce and a return to normalcy focus us away from the lessons and the memories of the place. We Catholics believe that the place of prayer is absolutely important. The tabernacle is the repository of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. So, driving over to church, and just sitting in His presence for an hour and listening is a high form of private prayer. Can you believe that? Just sitting in Church before the Blessed Sacrament and just listening and adoring, you are in the presence of Christ. Prayer is ingrained with the ole real estate maxim — location, location, location.
We profess that place and presence is important. The abortion clinic is also a place, and second only to the place of the Real Presence as a site for prayer. Here we are at the foot of Calvary. The clinic is in a two story pre-War brick office building, on a main road in the downtown of a little urban city in the middle of suburbia. It’s a place of killing across the street from a library, and next to a steak restaurant. The sign on the clinic is so small and nondescript that sometimes couples mistake the telephone company office building next door as the clinic. This mistake can give the sidewalk counselors 20-30 seconds more of time to inform the woman of the consequences of her choice. The clinic is so ordinary in appearance that our protest signs are the only witness of what goes on inside.
The pray-ers, protestors and counselors must be careful to stay on the public sidewalk, but we have the advantage of a 9-foot wide sidewalk abutting the building. So, we are right there, without a patch of grass to buffer our contact. We can walk alongside the women and companion that approach, and remain heard even as they open the door and enter the vestibule. The clinic security guard and the off-duty police officer, paid by the clinic, ensure that we do not extend beyond our legal space.
But every now and then, someone swings the door wide open and holds it open, and we are afforded a glance inside. I am like an adolescent passing a man’s bar. I strain my neck to catch a glimpse of a forbidden room. I see a stairway upward. Directly beyond the door is a six foot wide single flight of twenty old marble steps leading up to the clinic. The men that wait outside during the abortion tell me that everything happens upstairs. There may be an elevator in the building, but I don’t know. I do know that the average woman and companion need to walk up these stairs to do what they chose. It’s chilling to see the stairs in the context of the Calvary metaphor. Even in pagan Rome, stairs were sites of death and execution. The bodies of victims of Tiberius and Caligula were thrown and left to rot on The Stairs of Mourning. Here, on the stairs, the child is spiritually aborted. The physical abortion happens latter.
Some unborn will descend the stairs alive. Some women thankfully do change their minds. However, we know the fate of most.
In civil law, the abortion place is regulated and protected. In a spiritual context, the lives at risk in abortion clinic are protected by prayer. When I was on the prayer line, I always thought my contribution secondary to the two sidewalk counselors. Now that I am working in the counselor’s role, I just could not do it without the prayer and presence of the pray-ers at this place. Sometimes an enraged parent (grandparent of the unborn) will yell that they are being harassed. I honestly fear that someday I will be arrested. Accusation, even when baseless, is strong in this society. The pray-ers give me strength and under our Lady’s Mantle, I am protected on this frontline of battle. The pray-ers bombard the place with so much love and forgiveness, at the intercession of Mary through her Rosary, that lives are spiritually and physically reborn after the spiritual abortion.
I find myself asking more and more able bodied Catholics, priests and religious to come with me and join me in this place of prayer. Sure, prayers said in the comforts of home are worthy and vital. God does hear the prayers from home, church or the beach of Negril. The unborn benefit from your prayers wherever and whenever you offer them. But I am frightened too, and I need to see you praying with me. I am at the clinic for four hours, and generally get one hour of adoration a week. It’s and 80/20 split, but the proportions are reverse of what they should be. But sixteen hours in adoration a week? Plus the clinic, plus the job and the house and the kids? Now, my own heroic narcissism crumbles. I can’t do it alone. I come face to face with my own fallibility. I need the pray-ers too.
Dedication is strong, and beautifully stubborn. Sally is in her sixties, hurt her foot, and spent six weeks in a walking cast. Every Saturday she hobbled to the line, propped open a lawn chair which she carried from the car, and joined in the Rosary. She was so matter of fact about it; like walking down to the mailbox to pick up the mail. It was her routine, no big deal to her; vitally important to the unborn and to me. Catholic obligation is strong, and once smitten by Divine Love and Mercy, you hobble up and take your place at the foot of Calvary.