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If you’ve never taken the trip to Washington, DC, for the annual March for Life, you might consider making this year your first.
No one is promising you unadulterated fun. You’ll need to take off a day from work or school in midweek, Thursday, Jan. 22. You’ll board a bus the evening before and drive through the night. If you’re lucky, you’ll sleep fitfully for five or maybe six hours. (Advice: bring along a pillow, earplugs, and an eye mask, just as in an airplane.) The weather may promise to be cold or even snowing.
But when you arrive at dawn at the magnificent shrine of the Immaculate Conception--the largest Catholic church in North America--and see thousands of students already there, who spent the night in a “Vigil for Life,” and when you take part in the inspiring Solemn Mass for Life at 7:30, presided over this year by Bishop Paul Loverde, fatigue will quickly give way to inspiration, and you’ll begin to see why the journey was worthwhile.
Then the first reason for going to the March for Life will be clear to you: so that you get a big jolt of encouragement and energy to keep praying and working hard for an end to abortion.
You’ll have time for breakfast with fellow-travelers in the nation’s capital afterwards, and maybe a quick tour of a museum on the Mall, such as Air and Space, or the National Gallery. Then you’ll gather around noon on the Mall for speeches by pro-life leaders and politicians.
This year, undoubtedly, the newly sworn-in President will not be addressing the crowd by loudspeaker, in the tradition of President Reagan, continued by both Presidents Bush.
Hence, a second reason to be in Washington this year: the March takes place just two days after the inauguration, and what better way is there of demonstrating that you oppose strenuously any attempts to advance the “Freedom of Choice Act,” or the appointment of activist judges whose decisions would further unravel the fabric of society?
At this point you’ll begin to be astounded by the crowd of a hundred thousand plus that assembles along with you and which, as the March begins, walks peacefully up Constitution Avenue, around the Capitol building, to the steps of the Supreme Court. Groups come from all over -- some from as far as away as Minnesota and Florida.
You’ll be struck by the youthfulness of the crowd -- lots of students and young parents, many families, the whole group having maybe a median age of 25. They’ll be cheerful and obviously happy.
If you’re a single man, you’ll notice too how beautiful the single women are, since a pro-life attitude to life not surprisingly seems to enhance natural, physical beauty (a little-known strength of the pro-life movement -- some web sites in the past have even posted photos showing off pro-life “babes” at marches around the country).
And then a third reason for going to the March will become clear: to see first-hand that the pro-life movement is big, filled with ordinary people, and confident and happy. From the constant drumbeat of misreporting in the media, even a pro-life person might come to believe that he’s part of some kind of isolated and weird fringe: the March for Life provides a very perceptible corrective to this lie.
As the March flows past the gleaming white Capitol building (“among the most architecturally impressive and symbolically important buildings in the world,” according to its website), and the Supreme Court building, with its columns and classical lines, you may wonder how such beauty -- of architecture and of statecraft, in our nation’s founding -- gave rise to such a horrific evil as abortion. Maybe you’ll feel a certain indignation that those institutions that ought to have defended the youngest and weakest among us, threw them over to slaughter under the guise of a spurious claim of “right.”
And then maybe you’ll be gripped by a fourth reason to attend the March, namely, simply to stand up in solidarity and assert that you, as an American citizen who loves and understands the U.S. Constitution, “has not consented to their plan of action” (see the verse about Joseph of Arimathea, Luke 23:50).
After the March, the buses load on the Mall for the return journey. Maybe you’ll drive over the Potomac to Arlington, to take the parkway to the beltway and then home. If you do, you can catch a glimpse of Arlington National Cemetery, with its careful crisscrossing lines of grave markers that seem to flow on and on without end.
Next, consider that, if each white cross stood for an abortion, the vast numbers of dead buried in Arlington National Cemetery (about 300,000) would represent only three months of killing from abortion.
And that killing has now gone on, with little protest from us except for the March for Life, for 36 years.
And then, finally, you may feel the force of the fifth and perhaps most important reason for a Catholic to attend the March for Life -- so that the inconvenience of two red-eye bus trips, and a lost day of work, and maybe a day outside in a snowstorm, might be offered up in reparation for this enormous offense against God and attack on the dignity of the human person.
Respond by sharing generously in the cross of Christ, and say, “Father, forgive them: they know not what they do.”
Michael Pakaluk is Professor of Philosophy at the Institute for the Psychological Sciences (ipsciences.edu).