"We've been wandering in the desert for 40 years," declared Boston Cardinal Sean O'Malley. It was an ever-present reflection during the week that marked four decades of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that established a woman's right to an abortion. Last week, Cardinal O'Malley led a Mass that began at least 24 hours of prayer and protest for thousands of people gathered at the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in our nation's capital.
Are you, dear reader, sick of abortion, of the poverty of the discourse about the issue, the twisted politics that accompany it and where all this has left us as a culture? This moment is for you.
In his remarks, O'Malley mentioned an observer across the Atlantic: my friend Austen Ivereigh, a co-founder of Catholic Voices (the American branch of which I am a co-director). It's an organization dedicated to responsibly shepherding and furthering the public conversation on life, marriage and other issues that draw intense feelings and often clouded emotions.
In his book, "How to Defend the Church without Raising Your Voice," Ivereigh writes: "Despite occasional rare victories, the pro-life movement has been consistently defeated in its attempts to awaken society to the value and dignity of unborn lives; Catholics often feel, therefore, powerless to alter what can seem like an inexorable slide into the dehumanization of the unborn."
Again, what do freedom and choice really mean? What is good for women, for children, for society? What is love and how does it fit into anything, anymore?
These are the kinds of questions that plague headlines and pop songs, but do we really have the moral fortitude to explore them? Or is morality simply seen as something that helps us justify what we're doing and the repercussions that come with it? In other words, should morality be something that we use to excuse our actions, or should it be something that guides and forms them?
O'Malley did have a little good news to share about a victory in Massachusetts over an initiative that would have legalized assisted suicide there. It was a broad coalition that defeated the legislative push for the bill, and an op-ed piece in a local newspaper from Ted Kennedy's widow played no small role in its defeat. Her message was something that we must reflect on with the issue of abortion as well: Life is a tremendous gift. We must love one another and do it every moment, until our dying breath.
On the day of the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan talked on his weekly radio show to a woman who almost aborted her son. The father was uninvolved, and she learned the baby would have Down syndrome. Many children found to have this condition in the womb are aborted, thanks to the good offices of medical science. But the mother on Dolan's show found love and support in the Sisters of Life, a religious order that offers counseling, housing and community for mothers in difficult situations. And she couldn't be happier with her choice, and her child.
If we're going to do better, we're going to have to start listening to one another and advancing toward what is good and just together. We use all kinds of phrases like "social justice," and load them up with ideology that is neither social nor justice. How about taking a few steps back? Seeing what each one of us can do to help civil society flourish? It's the only cure for the despondency and anger so many of us feel about politics and culture. It's the only way out of the desert!