a catholic man, husband, father and physician.
It’s difficult for me to believe that more than a week has gone by since the 51st annual March for Life. I’m proud to say that I was present, in the company of my family. I’m ashamed to say that it was my first time ever attending the March. After years growing up in the DC suburbs, it was only after moving to Florida that I came to find myself walking determinedly down Constitution Avenue in my new Wolverine boots on the third Friday in January, bundled to the hilt.
Aside from it being my first-ever March, there were other notables about the event. For one, it snowed the entire day. By the time we awoke that Friday morning, there were already a few inches of accumulation on the streets and covering the grass. For the group of Florida high school students with whom we were traveling—many of whom had never seen snow--it was as if Christmas fell on the 4th of July. Who can contain themselves from throwing snowballs at one another on the National Mall during a snowstorm?
Not only did it snow, but it was cold. Really. Doggone. Cold. Again, growing up in the outskirts of DC, I was used to feeling the cold, but this time it felt more biting than I had ever remembered it. Even residents near our hotel in Arlington were commenting on the noteworthiness of the piercing wind. Perhaps south Florida is thinning my blood a bit too much…
My first impressions of the events surrounding the March were that the entire program was imbued with an air of infectious optimism. Of course, the cause behind the March is anything but joyful—the destruction of over 800,000 lives annually—but the unifying sense of solidarity among the marchers buoyed spirits and served as a reminder of the larger purpose that brought us to this place, at this time. The animated presence of so many young people from all across the country—in addition to the many cassocked and habited priests and religious sisters—emphasized the spiritual and existential dimension of our march for the inviolability of life. Championing the Pro-Life cause is not a political calculation or strategic gamesmanship; it is a response to a call to affirm that life is a gift from God which humankind cannot rightfully spurn or destroy.
On the Thursday evening before the March, our group attended the Vigil Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. The throngs of attendees, many of them high school or college-age kids, brought an air of anticipation to the event. The basilica was overflowing with people who had come for Mass several hours before its scheduled start of 5pm, dispensing with the conventional clap-trap that the Pro-Life movement represents an enfeebled and withering fraction of Americans’ opinions on abortion.
On the day of the March, our troupe piled into the bus in front of the hotel at half-past-six in order to make it to the Sisters of Life Life Fest at the DC Armory. In the shadow of the old RFK Stadium, where the Washington Redskins used to play in my youth, thousands of young people and religious gathered to share fellowship, hear testimony, and participate in Eucharistic adoration and the sacrifice of the Mass before descending on the National Mall. Again, the pervasive ebullience of the crowd stood in stark contrast to the angry, scowling masses attending other protest rallies for various causes that we’ve all grown accustomed to seeing on television.
Throughout the host of events surrounding (and including) the March, I kept wondering if we would be confronted by members of an angry mob that wished to disrupt the entirely peaceful protest that is the March for Life. But for a handful (like, three) of wise-guys along the March route, we didn’t really see any signs of opposition to the March. Later, in the warmth (and wifi) of the hotel, I was amused to read that some prominent pro-abortion counterprotests were called off because of the weather. It seems the pro-abortion organizers labeled the March for Life as irresponsible because it “put children in danger” by encouraging attendees of families to participate in the March in the cold. Oh, the irony…
During the entirety of our time in Washington, my heart was trying to make sense of the tremendous dissonance between the realities of the violent tragedy of abortion on women and children on one hand, and the exuberant joy that emanated from those who gathered in the Nation’s Capital on the other. The legal victory of the Dobbs decision has moved the legal struggle to hand-to-hand combat in state capitols across the country. The mantra of many of prominent speakers at the March is true; there is still so much work to be done to effect a large-scale change with regard to abortion. While the legal efforts to make abortion illegal wage on, the daily personal struggle for hearts and minds is the surest way to save lives and souls from the ravaging effects of abortion.
My heart’s restlessness was momentarily assuaged by the words of the priest who delivered the homily at St. Patrick’s Church in NW Washington on the Saturday evening before our return home. The homilist’s message spoke to my heart where it hurt the most. He said that surrendering ourselves to Christ means walking to the Cross, which is where we meet Jesus. We may be tempted to despair when we consider how things in our homes and work aren’t going our way; when affairs in the country aren’t going as we’d like; when division in the Church seeks to disrupt our peace. It is at those times of trial when we are called to place all that’s wrong with the world at the foot of the Cross and ask God to unite us with His Victorious Son in His due time. As we prepared to depart Washington and return home, the priest’s reminder of our assured spiritual victory caused me to consider the indelible inward effects of this annual event, the March for Life, on the hearts of every man, woman and child who braves the cold in DC every third Friday of January.