Sparks of life and mercy

I cheer for writers the way I cheer for the Red Sox. Once a writer – especially a nonfiction essayist – catches my eye, I’ll look for events where I can say “thank you” in person. Such a writer is Kathryn Jean Lopez, a journalist with a deep-rooted prolife commitment. When she appeared recently at a nearby conference to speak on the theme “Life After Roe: a time of radical challenge and opportunity”, I knew I had to go.

Lopez has written and reported extensively on politics, the life issues, culture, and Catholicism, always with a keen eye. So what does she make of this messy post-Roe culture of ours?

I soon learned that while her essays and reportage are marked by focus, her public speaking is of another order: one story after another in an energetic stream-of-consciousness style. She seemed to shoot off sparks, illuminating one point then another in rapid-fire style that rendered my note-taking nearly useless.

She talked about people. not politics. As one story flowed into another, she made clear where roots need to be cultivated: between people, in one-on-one conversation and service.

“We need to double down on the mercy,” post-Roe. She kept coming back to mercy, and to patience as well. “Being patient with everyone [is key to] life after Roe.” She urged extending that patience to people spreading misinformation about the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision. “Assume that people just don’t know. Assume best intentions.”

Lopez is a sidewalk counselor outside a New York abortion facility on a regular basis. She’s a journalist by vocation, and praying on sidewalks was definitely not in her skill set at first. Yet that has become part of her commitment, incorporating prayer and encounter into her life’s work. And those encounters don’t stop once an abortion is over. “We have to be hyper-sensitive to the needs of post-abortive women.”

What moved her to join sidewalk ministry? Seeing medical waste trucks outside the abortion facility, and realizing that the “waste” included human remains. She refused to turn away. In her professional work, she shares with her readers and listeners why they shouldn’t turn away, either.

“Pro-lifers need to have an examination of conscience,” always acting in ways that are merciful, and not just on the sidewalk: for one example, she cited the need to promote policies that support adoption and foster care.

“Think creatively. You never know what you’re being used for….Even those close to us need to know we will love them, not judge them.”

As a Catholic, she noted that the “Walking with moms in need” initiative of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has not yet taken off in a big way. She encouraged her listeners to discover the program. I’m Catholic myself, and I hadn’t been familiar with it. I’m learning about it now.

Here was a journalist, intensely practical, politically savvy, who could have spent an hour talking about strategy and lobbying and state-level legislation. In a room full of activists, that would have struck a familiar if not comfortable note. Instead, with each story she shared – with each spark, so to speak – she illuminated a way forward that isn’t paved with laws and court decisions.

Listening, serving one-on-one, being patient, extending mercy every day in big and little ways: those are precisely the challenges and opportunities that Kathryn Jean Lopez came to talk about. She spoke with urgency, as if she were afraid she’d run out of time before her work was done.

I’m writing this several weeks after hearing her speak at Assumption University. I mentioned earlier that taking notes during her speech was hard, because she kept moving from story to story. She forced me to listen to her whole message, not just listen for the occasional catchy quote (though I did my best to capture some). As a veteran of the public-policy aspect of pro-life work, I needed to hear what she had to say. She left an impression on me while I’m still in the process of decompressing from years of State House work.

You’re not done, she seemed to be saying. There’s better work ahead.

My thanks to Massachusetts Citizens for Life for hosting the convention at which I heard Ms. Lopez speak.

“Chattin’ With Jeanine” about Pro-Life Journeys

Many thanks to Jeanine Notter for welcoming me to her show!

New Hampshire state representative Jeanine Notter is from my town, and she hosts her own program on the community channel. I had fun visiting her recently for an interview that started with my Pro-Life Journeys book and went on from there. Here it is, courtesy of YouTube.

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.