Thursday, January 26, 2017

The Right to Life: Fuel for My March to Catholic Faith

The 2009 Right-to-Life March, Washington, D.C.
From Wikimedia Commons


The photo above, taken at the head of the 2009 Right-to-Life March, is that of the last March in which I participated.   At the age of 79, it was pretty much all I could do to keep up, even at the sauntering pace of our group, and so I've decided since then to march in spirit and to pray through the day for this nation to come to its senses.  I thought it appropriate to go back in time, to recollect how my pro-life sensibilities led me (and others) to the Church, and to recall some snapshots in my memory from the Marches in which I participated.   This journey into the past will be essentially a stream of consciousness (I've been reading Finnegan's Wake lately).


A brief account of my journey to faith is given in another post, "Top Down to Jesus."   Although it wasn't mentioned in that article, some fuel for that trip was my belief that all human life is sacred.    Now in the early part of the trip my belief in God was vague and uncertain, so "sacred" meant something different than it does now.   Perhaps the closest equivalence is "inviolable."   As a physicist who knew something of biology (many of my nmr research projects involved collaboration with biologists),  it made no sense to me to draw a timeline separating the living from the non-living embryo, or to neglect the potentiality of the full human in the zygote.

My wife is Catholic and strongly pro-life.  Indirectly from her (she wasn't proselytizing), when she answered questions about Church doctrine, I learned that the Church held life to be sacred from the moment of conception to that of natural death.   This made sense to me, in terms of the continuity of biological development.    It also made sense that the Church approved only of  natural death, not euthanasia or enforced journey into that "good night".   I had seen the movie "Logan's Run" and read the book, and being older than 30, the year in which life was snuffed out in this dystopia to make room for younger folk, I was not willing to go gently and unselfishly.

Let's skip some 15 years and see how a little learning (not a dangerous thing!) has informed my pro-life stance.   In the adult catechesis classes in which I have participated as a student and as a teacher, a most important teaching was that the soul is conveyed to the human embryo at the moment of conception, even if it be only a blob of tissue, as pro-abortionists might argue.

Pro-abortion fans argue that since the embryo or the foetus is not conscious, self-aware, it is not a human being.  This argument is, I contend, unsound.   If it is required that self-awareness be required for human status, then we could revert to the practices of the early Greeks and Romans and "expose" (a nice euphemism for "kill") unwanted babies.   Studies have shown that self-awareness  in the infant develops in five stages,  and is not fully present at birth.   So the pro-abortion fans should be logically consistent, and advocate the right to kill infants up to the age of five, and they might along the way include those they classify as mentally unsound or unfit.   Now where have I seen that argument before?

Let's turn to the end of life issues, to euthanasia. In a post  "The Fifth Commandment--The Slippery Slope of Euthanasia", I've discussed how "mercy killing" has transmogrified to killing the old for convenience in the Netherlands and Belgium, so I'll not repeat these arguments here  However, with the passage of laws allowing euthanasia in several states in the U.S., I begin to feel the chill of the ice-man's axe (or is it needle?) approaching this old guy, and, accordingly, I am ever so grateful for the Church's firm stance for natural death and against euthanasia.


This will be a change of pace, a recollection of events from Marches in the past.
We live in north-central Pennsylvania, about a six hour drive to Washington.  The practice has been for the parish (or several parishes) to hire a bus for the trip down, beginning at about 5:30 am (for the early morning Mass) and returning about 10 pm.   In Washington the buses would park at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, and we would take the subway down to to a point close to the Mall, where the March was to begin.   We would meet at Union Station after proceeding to the Capitol, go back to the Shrine and thence home,  stopping for a gourmand's buffet dinner--the preference of our parish priest--at a tourist stop near Thurmond, Md.  There were young people, old people and those in between.  Some of the older people would stay at the Shrine and pray instead of marching (as I did in my last March, several years ago).

In the 80's (before my conversion) my  wife and youngest son went down and encountered one of the rare, but disabling snowstorms that occur in D.C.    They got there too late to march, and returned home around midnight, tired but still invigorated by having made the journey.   I had thought to myself waiting for their return, what the H--- are they doing this for.   I found out later.

Here are some memories that stand out.   On my first trip, walking from the subway to the Mall where the March was to begin, I saw walking about 50 feet in front of me a middle-aged man with sidelocks, a kippah (the skull-cap worn by Orthodox Jews), with two young boys.   They were dressed formally, and I thought to myself--isn't that great;  you don't have to be Catholic to be pro-life.   And this was reinforced later, seeing people from other denominations in the March.  

In 2005, the first year of George W. Bush's second term, there was  a congratulatory message delivered from the White House to those assembled on the Mall.   How different from 2009, the first year of Obama's term--no message--although the lack of message did itself show how  Obama regarded those of us demonstrating for life  .    I recall the old people, older than I, the young people waving banners from all over the country, the priests in clerical garb, the monks and nuns in habits and more modern dress, the one very old monk in a wheel-chair being pushed by a younger.  I recall the songs, the hymns.   I recall the people standing at the side, cheering us on (with some exceptions).    I recall looking back at the huge mass of people and thinking if so many people are marching for what is right, we must prevail.   And so we shall.

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