Last year I had a powerful ProLife encounter at my workplace and reflecting on it, made me think of two particular spiritual works of mercy which are essential to any pro-life outreach: Instructing the Ignorant / Comforting the Afflicted
Saint John Paul 2 spoke of the most pressing task of our time being that of leading people to discover both their capacity to know the truth and their yearning for the ultimate and definitive meaning of life. We have a duty and a responsibility to not only proclaim the beauty of our faith, but also the immense and inestimable worth of every human being- from conception to natural end. There's also the need to expose some of the lies around the prochoice movement. A lot of people I come across, have only come into contact with one aspect of the abortion narrative, and more often than not it's not the pro life voice they are hearing. We have a lot work to do in instructing people who are often ignorant of the full story, often through no fault of their own, by simply making our ProLife voice heard- in big and small creative ways in our daily life.
To comfort the afflicted is very simple- to reach out with love and compassion for those who are trouble. People are afflicted by many things in our world and the so called burden of an unwanted or crisis pregnancy stirs up no end of turmoil for those involved. There's the affliction before, during and after decisions are made and we are called to walk alongside people on this journey- proclaiming the pro life message way in a way that touches their hearts. For those that choose abortion, we are called to pour healing balm on their sometimes painful wounds.
Making it ProLife
In a very real way I found myself unintentionally practising these works of mercy at work last month. A colleague took me out for a drink and very quickly began pouring her heart out for a good hour about how she had discovered her daughter was pregnant and that certain "choices that had to be made". She needed someone to listen to her fears, anxieties, doubts and concerns and I was happy to be there. I prayed during this time to be compassionate, to be careful in my response and to respectively offer her an alternative to abortion. It was a very fine line as I tried to be impartial: not wanting to sound too ProLife and biased, but also not wanting to become an unintentional pro choicer! I simply tried to present another option to her- one of life and one of hope, for the woman in front of me seemed to have no hope, just darkness facing her as she went over all the "what ifs" around her daughter's decisions.
During the conversation there were also opportunities to present some truths about the abortion industry in a non confrontational way. For example she told me she had booked an appointment with BPAS to discuss her options and speak to someone. I didn't condemn the decision, I just informed her of the bias these groups have... It's a business after all and they have money to make. She didn't realise this and she soon changed where she was sending her daughter to get advice.
I tried to present the pro life option in a way which didn't judge her and in that moment to love her in her affliction. I had to draw back at one point and say look you know I'm pro life. To which she responded "I know you are". I found it interesting that knowing my ProLife views, she still choose to share this heartache with me. Shortly after she revealed the reason for that awful knot in her stomach "it's my first grandchild" she said, as she began to weep. People know in their hearts what the truth is, even if they don't want to admit it. As Christians, we are called to walk alongside people in their pain, and to gently share the truth with them. They know what it is and we are called to either remind them of it, or of they don't, them to bring them to that place of truth. By comforting the afflicted, we are affirming the immense dignity of the person in need of our comfort. By instructing the ignorant, we are setting people free as we lead them into truth. Secular society might look very anti Christian and pro choice, but people know in their hearts what truth is, we just need to be courageous in appealing to that.
Living it Out
1) Know your stuff
If you are going to counsel the ignorant, then you need to know your stuff. A few facts about the law and the abortion industry is a good place to start. Lots of good websites have this kind of information on. It's also really good to know information on the ProLife movement or to have some good contacts you can turn to when needed. In the encounter with the lady above, through local contacts, I was able to offer some other alternatives to BPAS and also to communicate a message of hope. These contacts could be pro-life counsellors, crisis pregnancy centres, Life groups etc. See what's on offer in your area. Personal testimony can also be important. I shared on a situation I had encountered a year previously in another workplace and the very happy outcome of a crisis pregnancy, in very similar circumstances.
2) Think and pray about how you communicate the pro life message.
This is just as vital as knowing your stuff. It's no good being clued up and not being able to communicate your message at really critical times in people's lives. It can be all to easy to try and win an argument, but we can end up losing the person stood in front of us. It's a fine line, as I experienced last month. Sometimes just a single fact is needed, others need a bit more. This practical pointer covers both of these works of mercy because it's about really listening to what's on that persons heart in order to be able to speak most effectively to it, and when we speak it's about proclaiming truth always in love.
3) Read the Gospels
For those Christians reading this blog, if we want to truly comfort the afflicted then what better place to learn how to do this than by reflecting on the contact Jesus has with those most in need. There are so many beautiful encounters in the Gospel, where Jesus meets people in all of their distress and brokenness and brings them into the fullness of life with him. Let him shape your heart and mind, let him make your heart like his.
4) Get involved in sidewalk counselling
This one is a little bolder, but maybe you could be called to instruct and comfort women at the most crucial moment when they approach an abortion clinic. Those involved organising local 40 Days for Life campaigns would probably be best placed to connect you with this kind of outreach if you feel called to it.
4) Support ProLife Charities Practically
Maybe you don't have the time or get involved in counselling, but many charities such as the Good Counsel Network and Life, offer much ended resources and support to women facing crisis pregnancies. Maybe you could organise a fundraiser for their work or you could do a collection of baby items in you parish or workplace.
5) Support post-abortive outreach
Groups such as ARCH or Rachel's Vineyard, work with some of the most afflicted people who need our comfort and compassion: men and women left dealing with the consequences of their abortion long after the clinic has left them to it. Perhaps you could get involved practically or financially.
5) Be in the world but not of it.
After that conversation with that woman, I just went home thinking, this is why Jesus needs lay people in the world, in every sphere of society- working, socialising, partying and living life. It sounds simple but the lay vocation is key to building a culture of life. I don't push my beliefs on anyone at work, but people know what I believe and they also feel able to come to me with problems. I'm 27 and lots of colleagues my age are using all sorts of contraception and getting into difficult situations through their choices. People think that ProLife work is confined to vigils outside clinics etc but it's also in every sphere we find ourselves in. By building good relationships wherever we find ourselves, we create privileged places to reach out to people and share the ProLife message.