On the morning of the 40th anniversary of the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade ruling, I felt a chill, and it wasn't the bitter cold. After Mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral, some 500 or so New Yorkers walked through the streets of Midtown Manhattan, in front of God, man and Grand Central Station, praying for life, love and mercy. Our prayers were not in judgment of others but that humanity may do better: that women and men may see better options than abortion and that God may forgive us for letting anyone think that she is alone and has no other choice than the death of her child.
The chill was the knowledge that some of the people nearby know the pain of abortion all too well. It was the certainty that someone, on her morning commute, was thinking that was her only option. It was the sharing in a community's pain, guilt and sorrow.
We tend to live our lives masked in a veil of the self, pretending we live alone. But as solitary as we might sometimes feel, our actions affect others.
Now is the time to take a few steps back -- not to turn back the clock, but to reflect.
Our problems won't be solved through legislative actions. And legislative solutions, to the extent that they are effective, can't be maximized without a fuller context. We can't simply hold a vote to defund Planned Parenthood in order to send a political message and assume that the culture will change, that people will suddenly see the poisonous eugenics upon which the organization was founded and see adoption as the brilliant and generous option that it is. A congressional vote is not a magic trick. There are so many more steps involved.
In a new book, "Fill These Hearts," author Christopher West asks us to "Consider the idea that our bodies tell a story that reveals, as we learn how to read it, the very meaning of existence and the path to the ultimate satisfaction of our deepest desire."
West makes the point that our bodies and souls are not separate things, and that our very physical design speaks to our creation and destination. "In the biblical understanding, there exists a profound unity between that which is physical and that which is spiritual," he writes. "This means that our bodies are not mere shells in which our true 'spiritual selves' live. We are a profound unity of body and soul, matter and spirit. In a very real way, we are our bodies."
The general acceptance of the notion that our bodies are more than a conglomeration of biological functions is no longer something we can take for granted. Not when our federal health-care policy treats women's fertility as a disease, as a roadblock to a confused misunderstanding of freedom and equality. Not when we are sending women into combat.
The world-famous former mayor of New York City, Ed Koch, just died. He was good friends with the late Cardinal John O'Connor. They collaborated on a book, "His Eminence and Hizzoner," in 1989 in which Koch wrote: "The future of our nation depends on our ability to inculcate a strong sense of morality in our young people. That moral sense should be based on philosophical, ethical and religious teachings, which are the underpinnings of conscience. The way to oppose abortion is by challenging the conscience of those who advocate it. If the battle cannot be won at the level of conscience, it cannot be won."
But what is conscience? What constitutes right or wrong? If we do not agree there are answers to these questions, we'll never have a constructive policy or cultural debate about abortion. That is the basic work we need to address. No election is ever going to be better without it. No culture is ever going to be renewed without it. No lives are going to be truly saved and redeemed without it. We won't start making sense again without it. The dark bitter cold of winter will be warmed by the renewal that comes with embracing life, living life lovingly, supporting life, letting someone know they are not alone.