Out at Calvary — Part Two

It was way too early to be getting up on a Saturday morning, especially one with such an unimpressive weather outlook. Low clouds, hints of rain, it looked like a gloomy day.

That didn’t bother me. I was heading for the first time to pray at an abortion clinic.

Last year, the Sisters of Life, along with some young adults who were inspired by the Holy Father’s trip to New York, started a prayer vigil every first Saturday of the month at the Planned Parenthood clinic in Manhattan. They call it the Witness for Life, and it’s intended to be a quiet, prayerful testimony to life at a place where lives are destroyed and scarred by the reality of abortion.

The drive into the City was quick, no traffic at all. I got to Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral early, and even got a great parking spot up the block. I waited in the courtyard of the church, and chatted with some people I knew who were also there for the Witness.

At 8 o’clock, the day begins with Mass. There’s something particularly beautiful about an early morning Mass, sanctifying the day as it just begins. After Mass, there was Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament and a brief time for adoration. Then we set out in a short procession to the clinic, reciting the Rosary on the way.

From the outside, the headquarters of Planned Parenthood is unimpressive, just an ordinary office building. You would never know that lives were being destroyed inside. In a sad inversion of values, the City of New York had re-named the street “Margaret Sanger Square”, after Planned Parenthood’s racist eugenicist founder. What kind of society honors someone like that? Only one deeply in the grips of a Culture of Death.

We set ourselves up across the street from the clinic and continued to pray the Rosary. Two women of our group went across the street and began to greet women who were walking down the street, heading for the clinic, offering them some literature and words of encouragement.

At first, I couldn’t bear to watch the women entering the clinic. It was too upsetting to know what was in store for them and their babies inside that building.

After a while, though, my feelings soothed by the soft, gently voices offering those beloved prayers, I began to watch what was unfolding around me. Several things struck me.

There were many people who walked by the group of us who were praying. These were the normal people of the neighborhood, on the way to work, errands, etc. I noticed that they all stared at us. Nobody said anything, they just stared. It was clear that we were a curiosity to them. I also noticed that none of them glanced across the street at the clinic. How sad that a group of people praying is an oddity, but a clinic where they routinely kill children isn’t worthy of any attention. Do the passers-by not realize what is going on in there? Or are they just averting their eyes from the unpleasantness?

Lord, please soften their hearts so they can see what is before their eyes.

I was also deeply saddened by what I saw happening over and over again. A young woman would approach the clinic, accompanied by a young man. Then he would drop her off and walk away. Sometimes they went in together, but it always happened. He dropped her off and walked away. Sometimes they parted on the sidewalk. He dropped her off and walked away. One time it was particularly heart-rending, as a man my age approached with a girl my daughter’s age. And it happened again. He dropped her off and walked away.

I can’t think of anything that captures the tragedy and sadness of abortion more than that. My brothers, failing the woman in their life — and their child — at a time when they needed them most. Dropping them off and walking away.

Lord, please give these men the strength you gave St. Joseph, Guardian of the Redeemer.

And yet, it was not all sadness. The sense of peace and unity among those of us praying to Mary, the Mother of Sorrows, was very consoling. I was buoyed by the indomitable hope in the faces of the sidewalk counselors who were approaching the women to give them a chance to turn away. I felt a sense of hope and purpose and dedication in the group that lifted me up and gave me hope as well.

So, I spent an hour praying the Rosary on the sidewalks of New York. But that bland description doesn’t even begin to capture the beauty and pathos of the experience.

A central part of Christian discipleship is for us to be present to the crucified of today. That Saturday morning, as we prayed the Rosary at the modern Calvary, we were with Mary and the other women at the foot of the Cross. Inside the clinic, Christ was suffering for us again, and again, and again.

It was the right place to be.

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