Reflections of a Sidewalk Counselor

Every Friday morning, my mother and I visit the local abortion clinic.  Women travel from three neighboring states to terminate their pregnancies.  The doctor flies in from New Jersey because abortionists are so hard to find.  As the sun rises, my mom and I kneel, pray, and sing hymns.  This practice sobers and sanctifies our Friday mornings.

Our words have the power to give life and to convey forgiveness.  Effective counseling cares for the woman, listens to her fears, her struggles, her motherhood.  She needs to hear that someone cares and that there are people willing to walk alongside her.  The prayers, fasting, and counseling of 40 Days for Life Pensacola saved fifty-three mothers from abortion last year.  Two thousand were lost.  Out of such darkness each of the lives saved shines as a flicker of hope, a soul who can change the world.  During Lent, the clinic double-books its appointments because of the number of no-shows.  Spiritual warfare is a powerful weapon.  Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

Jesus gives us the words to pray, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”  Pope St. Gregory the Great asks, “Is it possible to offer, or even to imagine, a purer kind of prayer than that which shows mercy to one’s torturers by making intercession for them?”  Humility and sorrow for our own sin antidote the temptation to self-righteousness. Like Father Zossima in The Brothers Karamazov we must claim, “I am guilty for the sins of the whole world, and I more than anyone else.”  True pity and true charity demand that we see others as ignorant, deceived by Satan.  The situation calls for utmost charity in our thoughts, words, and deeds.  There is only one who ever suffered truly innocently, and he interceded for his persecutors.

I have met the perseverance and compassion of Jesus in the counselors who come on Friday mornings:  A husband and wife team sing praise songs, hand out pamphlets, and bring their six children.  A Latino woman cries out to each girl getting out of her car, “Chica, chica, don’t go in there.”  Bundled in a fur hat and coat, a quiet, elderly, Russian woman wanders around praying a rosary that reaches to her knees.  Lustania, a third order Franciscan, brings coffee or hot chocolate for the group on cold mornings.  She holds a picture of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and prays to St. Joseph.  She lives the words of St. Francis:  “It is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”  Any grace which we impart on others flows from the grace we have received from the fountain of life.  We love the poor and helpless because we see Christ in them.

A woman with lines of pain and wisdom on her face holds a sign bearing, “I regret my abortion.”  She explained to me that a woman’s conversion often comes at the moment of her abortion.  Unable to descend any lower, she feels her conscience stir.  In the words of Alice von Hildebrand, “To be conscious of one’s weakness and to trust in God’s help is the way to authentic strength and victory.”  Often, only in the throes of darkness and pain can we realize our need for light and healing.  The greatest saints are born out of repentance for the greatest sin.  The centurion at the foot of the cross confessed, “Truly this man was the Son of God.”  Hope, with perseverance, never disappoints, and God can soften hearts beyond our power to imagine.

The birth of a child has the power to transform each mother and father.  Motherhood gives women the opportunity to, like Mary, say yes.  “Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if she continues in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.”  The call of motherhood is a call of sanctification, one of the highest vocations a woman can accept during her life, the opportunity to evangelize one’s own child.  Mary tells the Angel Gabriel, “Behold the handmaiden of the Lord.  Let it be to me according to your word.”  Ecce ancilla Domini.  Fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum.  Mary accepts the divine plan and plays a role in the salvation of mankind.  God also uses our small expressions of humility, our own fiats, in conjunction with His great purpose of redemption.

The figure of Mary and the season of Advent provide a fitting framework to consider the tragedy of abortion.  I first began going to the abortion facility during Advent with a local church who sang Christmas carols outside.  As we consider Jesus’s birth, we also remember Herod’s slaughter of the innocents, the massacre of all male children under two years old.  Matthew calls this event the fulfillment of the prophecy, “A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping.  Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are no more.”

As the blood of the innocents cries out from the ground, so the blood of Jesus calls out from the chalice.  To begin Lent, we held a candlelight vigil on Ash Wednesday in which we prayed a Divine Mercy Chaplet, entreating God the Father, “For the sake of His sorrowful passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world.”  The world needs mercy, and we channel that mercy.  Through repentance and sorrow for our sin, we prepare ourselves to go out and to tend the Good Shepherd’s sheep.  Whatever we do to the least of Christ’s brethren, we do unto Christ.  The more dejected and hopeless the recipients, the more brightly His grace will shine.