Fire and Ice in DC

By David and Angela Franks

This column appeared in the January 31, 2014, edition of The Boston Pilot.


A major snowstorm, and brutal cold, and still the hundreds of thousands came on, to March for Life in the nation’s capital on that dreadful anniversary, January 22nd. They were heeding the fire bell in the night. But, unlike Thomas Jefferson’s grotesque take on the Missouri Compromise, these citizens hear the bell aright: we run to the flame of love, to have our hearts rekindled. For the forgotten ones, the “unwanted” babies, written onto the nether side of a line of judicial caprice, we bear witness.        

Forty-one years ago, the Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton legalized a private right to execute the unborn throughout all of pregnancy. Our great republic is sick with this cancer.

David brought our two oldest children to the March with the seminarians from Saint John’s for the fourth year. The men seem to appreciate indulging their antics on the way up and down. And our kids gain a profound sense that the pro-life movement is the most important human rights struggle in the history of the world, because it is waged on behalf of the most powerless human life.

If you take the preferential option for the poor seriously, you are seriously pro-life. You vote pro-life. You pray for the end of the abortion regime. You give the firstfruits of all your labor to defend the weakest from the onslaught of consumerist desire in its most diabolical phase.

Jesus declares, “I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already blazing! I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished!” (Lk 12:49-50) Why is Jesus yearning for the baptism of the Cross? The Catechism, in one of its boldest formulations, indicates why. “Jesus knew and loved us each and all during His life, His agony, and His Passion and gave Himself up for each one of us” (no. 478). The Sacred Heart of Jesus is big with each of us. Each and every one of the tens of billions of human lives who have existed or ever will exist, Jesus carries in His Heart. His heart is ablaze with the divine love, and He would melt our hard hearts. He would cross through death, so that we may be brought to life.

The hearts of most of us contain vast tracts of tundra. We who march have our own unloveliness, sclerotic in intimacy, perpetrating our own, sometimes spectacular, failures to love, in our own homes, in our own workplaces, in our own cities and states. Acting pro-life is the beginning of the heart-thaw, but until we take the popes seriously, and love one another as Jesus loves us, with wild, uncalculating love, neighbor and enemy and all the denizens of the worldwide city of the poor, we are only beginning.

But we must all begin with pro-life commitment.

Archbishop Chaput in the text he wrote for the Mass to close the Vigil for Life, puts it beautifully: “The truth about the dignity of the human person is burned into our hearts by the fire of God’s love.  And we can only deal with the heat of that love in two ways.  We can turn our hearts to stone.  Or we can make our hearts and our witness a source of light for the world.  Those of you here today have already made your choice.  It’s a wonderful irony that despite the cold and snow of January, there’s no such thing as winter in this great church.  This is God’s house.  In this place, there’s only the warmth of God’s presence and God’s people.  In this place, there’s no room for fear or confusion or despair, because God never abandons his people, and God’s love always wins.

Thank God that He is the First Cause! In the long run, hard hearts will melt, for Jesus has passed from death to life.

Now, marching is not the same as the hard political and educational activity necessary to change the hard heart of this nation. There is no silver bullet that will restore the right to life of the innocent in law. But it is very important to be reenergized by going on a pilgrimage, and sacrificing some personal comfort to have our consciences exposed a little more, to receive the gospel of life a little more deeply.

Cardinal Séan, in his homily for the National Vigil Mass for Life, transmitted the whole vision quite comprehensively. There is no love, there is no communal life, no solidarity, no human rights, no social justice, if we are not seriously pro-life: “Rather than societies of people living together, we risk becoming societies of people who are rejected, marginalized, uprooted, and oppressed. When the Church raises the prophetic cry “Choose Life!”, we’re performing a great service to all of society. …The gospel of life is the centerpiece of the church’s social teaching. …The Church’s consistent life ethic contrasts with the incoherent proclamation of human rights that fails to protect the most vulnerable. Human rights without the right to life are the [emperor]’s new clothes. It’s a fraud. It’s an exercise in self-deception.”

The Congregationalist minister John Ames in Marilynne Robinson’s extraordinary novel Gilead conjures the vision we all must have: “It has seemed to me sometimes as though the Lord breathes on this poor gray ember of Creation and it turns to radiance—for a moment or a year or the span of a life. And then it sinks back into itself again, and to look at it no one would know it had anything to do with fire, or light. ...But the Lord is [even] more constant and far more extravagant than [this] seems to imply. Wherever you turn your eyes the world can shine like transfiguration. You don’t have to bring a thing to it except a little willingness to see. Only, who could have the courage to see it?”

Love blows on the embers in this darkling world. Don’t you see the fire that rises?

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