By FR. MIKE SHIELDS
Started in 2004, in Texas, 40 Days for Life is a great Lenten program. I attended the kick-off rally this year in Silver Spring, Maryland where I am on sabbatical from Magadan, Russia and living in a local parish here.
Earlier, I was praying for a Lent that would put word and deed together — like the Gospel story of the wise man who builds on the rock. Jesus said he was wise because he heard the word and acted upon it. I wanted a Lent that would help me face some fears and challenge my comfort zone.
At the kick-off rally for the local 40 Days for Life here in Silver Spring, a speaker challenged the attendees to take one hour a day — say the lunch hour — to pray for women who might be considering whether to get an abortion in Silver Spring. We were asked to pray just one hour in front of the local Planned Parenthood clinic for the tragedy of abortion to cease and for hearts to change and see the sacredness of life.
This suggestion hit my heart, and I knew this was my Lenten practice for this year — no lunch and lots of prayer.
The 40 Days for Life effort is an incredible act of faith. Founded on prayer and fasting is now happening in 247 cities in the United States and has become an international program to confront the culture of death in nine countries.
I must tell you the first day I didn’t want to be there. I made every excuse. When the Metro system broke down as I was riding to go pray, I saw it as a sign that I didn’t have to go that first day to pray. I smiled at God, however, because the Metro broke down and the only stop I could get off was two blocks from the Planned Parenthood clinic where I was scheduled to pray with others.
I made it and was surprised how deeply prayerful and serious these men and women were who had come to pray. Some of them had been coming for 10 years to pray and counsel the women seeking an abortion.
One woman from Guatemala, eight weeks pregnant, received help from a lady who helps run a Hispanic pregnancy center. She left the clinic even though she had an appointment for an abortion. One child saved.
But there were 10 other women who did not leave. All arrived with sad faces, heads down. It seemed so far from the myth of “choice.” They didn’t look free at all. I wondered what and who was driving them to the abortion. How could we help them?
Two days later when I came to pray, I encountered the other side of abortion when five large boxes came out of the abortion clinic labeled “bio-hazardous medical material.” But really it was the remains of 10 babies from Saturday’s abortions.
I felt a deep sickness in my stomach. Abortion was real. The results of this terrible evil were being loaded on a truck as bio-hazardous medical waste. But only two days ago, these were children in what should have been the safest place a child could be — her mother’s womb.
This is not going to be an easy Lent. I don’t like being here or the looks and the comments. But I need this Lent to become, as one theologian said, a Christian with “a soft heart and hard feet.” Not the other way around — with no compassion and no desire to name the truth.
We need hearts of compassion with lives set firmly on the rock of truth. A human life is a gift from God. They must be loved and where they are threatened, they must be protected. Let us pray this Lent to have a new springtime of life.
The writer is pastor of the Church of the Nativity in Magadan, Russia, a mission parish of the Archdiocese of Anchorage, Alaska.