Within two days in January 2009 two spectacular and outstanding events occurred in Washington, DC. The first African-American president of the United States of America was sworn into office and the thirty-sixth anniversary of Roe v. Wade was commemorated.
Each event gathered thousands upon thousands to our nation's capital to bear witness.
The first, on Tuesday 20 January, to see a man who rose from relative obscurity in Illinois and who became a US Senator from that State to run for and achieve the highest elected office in the land.
The second, on Thursday 22 January, was to demonstrate on behalf of the inalienable right to life of the unborn and to commemorate the millions of unborn children who have perished in this nation over the last thirty-six years.
However, a bit of a conflict emerges. The first Black US president in our nation's history is also avidly pro-choice! He has both spoken and acted on behalf of a woman's "right to choose" to have an abortion.
The US Catholic bishops have found themselves in a bit of a quandary. While it is a time for celebration for the historic event of the first it is also a sobering reminder of the need for work for the second.
As Franciscan friars, we try to see all events as opportunities for God's grace. The waves of boistrous applause and cheers on the National Mall that frigid Tuesday displayed a unity of peoples of all races, ethnic backgrounds and socio-economic realities. The March for Life two days later expressed a profound frustration at the current reality of both the US government's change of policy to liberalize abortions and a hope. The hope is born, really, of the Gospel of Jesus.
That is what we Franciscans proclaim -- the Gospel of Jesus Christ! While we can celebrate on the one hand with peoples of various religious and historical backgrounds we also can speak the truth of the invioable right to life for every human being.
With the US Catholic bishops we can call for an ongoing dialog so that, according to our newly inaugurated president, "abortions become rare." We certainly hope that this is not empty rhetoric. We also pray for a change of heart -- from an apparent obstinancy toward the right to life "in utero" to embracing these unborn fetuses as human persons, given life by their Creator.
This, of course, calls everyone in the Right to Life movement, Catholics and other Christians and those of other faith traditions or no faith tradition, to take stock of what can be done to promote human life throughout so that, indeed, abortions not only become rarer, they become non-existent.
Pre-natal help for expectant mothers; care for children who are born to mothers who are addicted to drugs and/or alcohol; care for mothers who are incapable, for whatever reason, to care for their own children; increasing responsiblility among all people in the USA toward sexual behavior, regardless of one's religious affiliation; a civil debate about women's concerns regarding their bodies and human reproduction; the reality of the devastating effects of medically induced abortions on the human fetus, the mother and other family members; and so much more.
Perhaps we can take President Obama's inaugural address to heart "to pick ourselves up and dust ourselves off" and begin again. St. Francis of Assisi is quoted as saying something similar toward the end of his life. "Brothers, let us begin, for up till now we have done very little."