I Have Met the Elephant, and It Is Me

Bernini’s elephant base for the obelisk in front of the church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva in Rome

Having struggled through yesterday’s post, I went to Mass today prepared to be more open to an expected pro-life message than I was last year on this Roe v. Wade anniversary weekend. I vowed to acknowledge the elephant in the pew. I just didn’t think I would be the elephant.

To be fair, my parish is not known for a particularly strong or explicit pro-life outreach, which is one of the reasons I felt comfortable there in the first year or so of my homecoming. I could happily participate in the parish-wide baby shower for the local crisis pregnancy center, but nobody was putting petitions under my nose or making street witness a requisite for parish membership–which is kind of odd, actually, because Martin Haskell’s clinic, one of the few places in the country offering the late-term (partial birth) abortion technique Haskell developed, is located just outside the parish bounds.

It’s a moderate-to-liberal assembly, worshiping in a beautifully appointed and very contemporary facility, with a strong social justice ministry that takes on issues like support for illegal immigrants and health care for the indigent. It’s the kind of parish, in other words, where the old me would have felt right at home, and mostly the new me does, too. But there I was today, looking around for the elephant of a pro-life message in the liturgy, and finding none.

Oh, there was the beautiful symbolic gesture of tall lighted votives massed around the altar, each representing a million lives lost (or legal abortions performed, as the old me would have put it) since Roe v. Wade. Before Mass, a lector read a prepared statement acknowledging the anniversary and explaining the candles; it sounded like something the diocese might have issued. There were petitions in the Universal Prayer that asked God’s blessing on the unborn, on parents struggling with unplanned pregnancies, and on March for Life participants. The celebrant was neither the pastor nor our newly ordained associate, but an elderly priest, a retired professor, who sometimes substitutes. So I can’t say whether the other Masses heard any sort of pro-life connection in the homily. I know we didn’t. Building off the Gospel, in which Jesus announces the advent of the reign of God, Father traced the image of the kingdom through pretty much every book of the Bible, winding up 25 minutes later with two examples of kingdom living: the monks profiled in the film Of Gods and Men, and Dorothy Day. Good examples both, and he left us with the admonition to Go and do likewise. But.

The word I needed to hear–and I know from the response to yesterday’s post that I’m not alone in needing it–was some way to connect the readings of the day to the anniversary of the day, and then a suggestion or two of what to do in the cross-point, the literal crisis, of that intersection: how to live the Gospel of Life. Father came thisclose. Could he not have connected the dots for us by acknowledging, as Dorothy Day herself did, that she came to the Gospel of Life after having first passed through the doorway of an abortionist? In her life and in her fierce double commitment to justice and prayer, Dorothy Day is a patron saint for those of us suffering from revertigo, a political progressive with the steely core of a liturgical trad. When it came to the Gospel of Life, she knew of what she spoke. She walked the talk. In a CNA post last September, Kathryn Jean Lopez put Dorothy’s life in sharp perspective, and I’m grateful to The Anchoress for reposting her link to that piece on Facebook last night as something to think about this weekend.

I came to Mass prepared to be a little less defensive about a pro-life message I have steeled myself against for so long, and left hungrier for that message than I ever imagined I could be. Maybe that’s the grace of God at work, drawing me out to the wilderness where the heart can hear. Maybe it was not Father who was meant to connect the dots today, but me. The elephant.

In response to a couple of comments on yesterday’s post: I should have made it clear that my mother’s pregnancy was not, after all, ectopic. (More than one friend who didn’t get that congratulated me on being a miracle baby, which is most definitely not the case.) And had it been an ectopic pregnancy that progressed to the point of danger, Church teaching then and now would have permitted the surgical removal of the damaged tube, with the unfortunate but not intended termination of the pregnancy. My mother’s story is one of misunderstood teachings and unspoken fears, and it was included not as an indictment of the Church but as an example of the complicated and personal implications surrounding the issue of abortion for many women of my mother’s generation and my own.

And speaking of candlelight memorials, the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles made a glowing witness to the city part of its Requiem for the Unborn last night. See the Cathedral’s Facebook page for more on this photo of the memorial candles that will be visible all week to drivers on the freeway arteries flowing through the heart of the City of the Angels.


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