"What is he doing?"
My husband asked the question as we were driving through a small college town in Pennsylvania. We had taken a long weekend to visit a bookstore another friend had mentioned and were enjoying a beautiful late spring day, driving up and down the side streets in a lovely little community, when we saw a man on his knees on the sidewalk, back ramrod straight, concentrating on something clutched in his hands, his lips barely moving, completely oblivious to those passing by on foot or by car. As we drew closer, I saw what he held.
"He's saying the Rosary."
There was nothing to mark the building, but the posture and the action of this man told us that this was an abortion clinic. This was a place where a beautiful young college girl could come to receive a secular absolution for her momentary indiscretion, where she could wipe out that stain on her worldly intelligence, where she could show her professors and parents that she really could act responsibly. She could bring a friend with her to drive her home, someone who would munch an apple while waiting in the car. She could make all the arrangements. She could walk in that door and act as if this were nothing more than a routine visit to her regular doctor, and when it was over, she could console herself in all the ways she had been taught to do, but as with everything else in this life, there are some things that they don't tell you. There are some things that you find out when it is too late to save what is really important. That newfound knowledge was written on the faces of the girls coming out the door, some still clutching their abdomens, the hollowness reaching their eyes.
We stopped the car and parked (illegally, alas) and walked over to the sidewalk where the man knelt. Some other women had pulled up in a van and were hauling out the usual gruesome signs that one sees in front of abortion clinics from time to time, but I was drawn to kneel with the man already there on the sidewalk. My husband joined me and we knelt to pray for the poor girls who felt driven to this, for those who had done it before and now had the anger of the self-deluded to convince them that this one didn't matter any more than the last one did, and we prayed for those who brought them, those who sent them, and for those who weren't here by choice. Then I couldn't pray anymore, I could only kneel and watch the quiet gentleman beside me telling his beads, joining my heart to his words, joining my pain with that of the girls within the clinic.
My husband rose to go move the car and I stayed behind to wait for him, still kneeling. The other ladies had set up at the far end of the building, their signs and their offers of brochures meeting with little success, and quite a bit of hostility. One man, jogging by with a large dog, began to curse them loudly as he passed, pausing by the two of us kneeling (our backs to him) long enough to set his dog to barking and growling at us. "Get 'em, boy, get 'em!" I prayed for him, too. Such virile hatred for something as innocuous as prayer.
But it isn't innocuous, is it? It is our most potent weapon here on this earth. We beg our daily bread, we plead for forgiveness, we offer praise, all through prayer. Those with vocations offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and call forth the Holy Spirit in the Sacraments for us. Those cloistered bear the weight of the world, tiny titans in wimples and hoods who lift it daily before God and remind Him that what He has created, He can destroy, but surely He will spare it for the fifty good souls pleading for it? Perhaps for the twenty, maybe the ten? Or perhaps just the one kneeling before a thick white "no trespassing" line telling him he is not welcome, but who stays there anyway to pray for the children who might have been.
He continued telling his beads even as I rose to leave, making the sign of the cross and thinking of Christ in the noonday sun, and His Holy Mother standing near His torn feet, clutching her abdomen too, feeling the loss and the hollowness that only a mother who has lost her child can feel. She, that most silent Witness of them all, would hear the prayers uttered by those gathered before this new Golgatha and would bear them before Her Son, and plead as only a mother can do for the fate of Her children.
May God have mercy where we show none. Amen.