“If you are patient when you suffer for doing what is good, this is a grace before God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, Leaving you an example that you should follow in His footsteps.” — 1 Peter 2:20b-25
As I listened to these words from the Second Reading at this past Sunday’s Mass, my brother was sitting in Nassau County jail, serving a 30-day sentence for trying to rescue unborn babies from imminent destruction.
John had taken part in what have come to be called “Red Rose Rescues”: peaceful, prayerful efforts to offer mothers a last-moment, life-affirming alternative before they have their babies aborted. The rescuers enter an abortion mill, hand each of the waiting mothers a red rose, long a symbol of pro-life love for the unborn and their mothers, and offer to connect them with a pregnancy care center.
Of course, the abortion merchants don’t want them there, so they know they are going to be arrested when they decline to leave. And they also know that in the current atmosphere—especially here in New York State, where this particular rescue took place on Long Island—the legal authorities are going to side with the abortion lobby that controls the levers of political power on which their positions depend, and meet its demands that these prayerful, nonviolent “offenders” go to jail.
They know this is not the late-1980s, when Operation Rescue launched with massive sit-ins at abortion clinics across the New York metropolitan area, flooding the system with hundreds of arrestees, too many to easily prosecute and incarcerate; when their numbers were fortified with leading Catholic figures like New York auxiliary Bishop Austin Vaughan and Rockville Centre diocesan Respect Life director Msgr. Jim Lisante, as well as such prominent and popular public figures as New York Giants all-pro Super Bowl champion Mark Bavaro; when John Cardinal O’Connor, while not taking part, made clear his prayerful support for their efforts to save lives; when Nassau District Attorney Denis Dillon publicly proclaimed that he would not take part in prosecuting the pro-life rescuers, and even New York City’s pro-abortion Mayor Ed Koch, who greatly esteemed and cherished his friendship with Cardinal O’Connor, made no move to call for harsh sentences.
This is not then. The Red Rose rescues involve only handfuls of participants; even those religious, political, and cultural leaders inclined to support the pro-life cause—far scarcer in New York now than 30-plus years ago—are reticent to defend peaceful civil disobedience, at least in this cause; DAs, prosecutors and judges will not defy the power of the abortion lobby, and its demands for unduly harsh punishment for these minimalist violations of the law in defense of life.
These peaceful, prayerful rescuers are very much alone. And yet they persevere. Because they know, in the words of Peter, that it is to this that they have been called; this is how they are to heed Christ’s example, and follow in His footsteps. They know, as He taught and as our earthly legal authorities will ultimately learn, that God’s law, and His justice, hold primacy over human law, especially demonstrably unjust man-made laws.
Like Christ, they do not seek suffering. They seek to do good, by saving children’s lives and helping mothers in crisis. But if suffering is inflicted upon them for doing good, they, like Christ, accept it.
In doing so they also give example, as Christ did, for all of us. Not necessarily to do exactly as they are doing; we are not all called in the same way. But we are all called, in different ways, to do good and to oppose injustice—not only when doing good is popular, and will win us accolades; but rather, more so, when it is unpopular, and those opposed to the good we are called to do are determined to make us suffer for it.
That is where the pro-life cause stands today: threatened with retribution and vilification from powerful social, cultural, and political forces determined to uphold the “right” to destroy innocent pre-born human lives, and to persecute, silence, and crush any dissenting voices.
In the context of this defining struggle of our age, we are all challenged to ask ourselves: What am I willing to risk, to sacrifice, to suffer, in order to stand up for the most innocent, most defenseless, of God’s children; and to oppose this grave injustice which undermines the very foundation of human rights and equality under the law for which our nation, and our legal system, are supposed to stand?
What would Jesus do? What are we called to do?