9 Days for Life: join the novena

Beginning today, you can join others in a focused nine-day program of prayer and reading for the protection of human life at all its stages. 9 Days for Life is about praying and reflecting together, even when we’re not gathered in one place.

I won’t be in Washington for this week’s March for Life, even though the march marks two significant events: the 50th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, and last June’s Dobbs decision that overturned Roe. The bishop in my diocese decided some weeks ago not to sponsor buses to the 2023 march, despite having done so in earlier years, in order to underscore the Supreme Court’s decision to return abortion policy to the states.

Parishes are instead holding events of their own: specially-scheduled Masses, Eucharistic Adoration, life-issue films, and so forth. Our state march for life, held last weekend, was preceded by a Mass and followed by a reception and conference at the church hall. It’s safe to say that the local Catholics aren’t making the mistake of thinking that abortion is some kind of settled issue.

Still, there’s something missing as I skip this year’s trip to Washington: the overwhelming mutual support and combined voices of my sisters and brothers in faith from all over the country. The March for Life claims no religious affiliation, and all who come in peace are welcomed to it. All I have to do is look around the National Mall and the march route, though, to find students from Catholic colleges and parishioners from many states. I’ve been to pre-March Masses at different churches in D.C., packed with travelers fresh off their chartered buses. There’s a unity and common faith that overcomes – for awhile, anyway – the sense of dislocation that can go along with being pro-life in an abortion-friendly community.

9 Days for Life can remind us of that unity and faith. I don’t need to travel to Washington to participate.

I’ll miss the trip to D.C., the interesting company, even the Washington street vendors with their hot pretzels that have always sustained me on cold mornings before marches in past years. That’s okay. I can probably find hot pretzels here in New Hampshire if I put my mind to it.

I’ll go find the pretzels after I register via text for the novena, which will result in my getting a daily text with a theme and prayer. Text 9DAYS (no spaces) to 84576 to sign up. You can also find all the information about the novena at the 9 Days for Life website.

A week of observances

Today is a federal holiday, honoring Martin Luther King, Jr.

Later this week will be the 50th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision.

This is the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, an ecumenical project promoted by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The year’s theme is “Do Good; Seek Justice.” We included prayers for that intention at Mass at my parish over the weekend.

I perceive a common theme.

Dr. King strove for the recognition – not the creation, but recognition – of the inherent rights of all human beings. Whatever civil rights might mean to the politicians making speeches today, I can’t see that any rights make sense unless the right to life is recognized first.

I couldn’t look anyone in the eye and say that I support that human being’s right to vote but only after someone else allows that human being to live.

Honoring Dr. King, recalling Roe, seeking justice: defending the right to life does all three.

Religion Freedom Week, as we wait for Dobbs

It’s the feast of Saints Thomas More and John Fisher, marking the beginning of Religious Freedom Week as observed by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. It’s just a week, not a fortnight as was the case back in the early days of the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate. Still, a call to a dedicated time of prayer and action with religious liberty in mind is always timely.

A lateral move?

I write as I await the Supreme Court’s decision in the abortion-related Dobbs case, due within days. A draft of the Dobbs opinion hostile to Roe v. Wade was leaked some weeks ago, leaving me pondering just how low we’ve set the bar for being pro-life. Nothing in the draft either states or implies that the Court is ready to recognize the fundamental right to life of all human beings from the moment of conception without regard to age, health, or condition of dependency. The draft, if it holds, dumps the “issue” back to the states. Having spent a few decades making frequent trips to New Hampshire’s State House as a citizen speaking out on the right to life, I know that such a Supreme Court decision would be a lateral move at best.

Even so, the call is clear as I contemplate the likelihood of a Dobbs decision during a week celebrating religious liberty: prayer and action, now and always, wherever the law stands, whether or not our voices are welcomed in the public square.

Inspiration

The USCCB has suggestions for eight daily prayer intentions during the coming days. It’s not a comprehensive list. Only a few of our challenges can be addressed in such a short period of time. Treat each intention as inspiration for future work: thoughtful prayer, focused action, steadfast witness.

  • June 22: walking with mothers in need
  • June 23: pray that Christian witness in the face of attacks on churches may convert hearts to faith in Christ. Threats and vandalism to churches, including acts taken in the wake of the leaked Dobbs draft, underscore that this is an urgent challenge.
  • June 24: adoption and foster care
  • June 25: opposing taxpayer funding of abortion
  • June 26: religious freedom in China
  • June 27: pregnancy resource centers
  • June 28: conscience rights for health care workers
  • June 29: free speech. This means not only praying for protection of First Amendment rights, but also “that Christians will have the courage to proclaim the gospel of life and dignity for all with kindness and clarity, even in the face of adversity.”

Challenge: grow beyond unjust laws

My bishop has offered many examples of that kindness and clarity. I wrote in some detail at Leaven for the Loaf about what he said at one particular Mass during one of the first Fortnights for Freedom. An excerpt will serve here.

We can and we do lobby for just laws, and for the overturning of those laws, the repeal of those laws, that are unjust. But whenever [such an effort] is unsuccessful, we are called to make those laws obsolete.… Such must be the unjust law – that we have grown beyond such things…[to] a time where adherence to God’s law has turned us away from discrimination, murder, inordinate living, disordered belief, and the shame of a people who no longer value the true dignity of human life. Let us grow beyond.

Bishop Peter Libasci, Diocese of Manchester, homily for Fortnight for Freedom, June 2013

All these years later, I stand by what I wrote in the same post, reflecting on what Bishop Libasci had said.

I looked around the Cathedral as the Bishop spoke. I saw no cameras or press. Perhaps a hundred people were there.   In a secular environment, I’d have said that the man needs an agent. This was a church, though; a community of faith was present. Everyone there is the “agent,” so to speak, charged with getting out the message. In how many other churches will the same message be delivered in the coming days? From there, who knows where it could go? Small beginnings, perhaps, but with great potential and great hope.

Leaven for the Loaf, 6/23/13