A Hero Among Heroes

Last night, the media and the political world were all focused on the Al Smith Dinner, where Cardinal Dolan hosted the two presidential candidates and many of the leading public officials and political figures from New York and across the nation.

I’m sure it was a wonderful event, full of the best professionally-written jokes.  But they were all looking at the wrong dinner.

I had the good fortune of being at the right one — the annual Great Defender of Life Dinner, hosted by the invaluable Human Life Review.  Every year, this event gathers pro-lifers from New York and around the nation, to offer an evening of fellowship and mutual support.  It gives us a chance to see the real face of the pro-life movement — not the blinkered media stereotype, but the wonderful, dedicated people who are committed to protecting and preserving human life at all stages.  It is a celebration of their love for each other, love for God, and love for the precious gift of life.  So many quiet, ordinary people — so many heroes for life, building a true civilization of love in their everyday lives.

Every year, there is an award for a Great Defender of Life, and this year there were two recipients.  The first was Advocates for Life, an organization of young pro-life attorneys and law students who are dedicated to resisting the culture of death that is so deeply entrenched in the law and in the legal community.  It is very uplifting to see so many of my fellow attorneys who have enlisted in this great cause.

The second honoree has a special significance for me — former Senator and federal judge James Buckley.  For those of us who came of political age in the Seventies, Mr. Buckley was a major formative figure.  A man of deep moral fibre, he was a model to us that it was possible to be a man of principle in the world of politics.  On so many of the crucial issues of the day, he gave witness to the importance of high moral standards, and a commitment to the common good of all.

In his long and distinguished career, one of the highlights was his sponsorship of the Human Life Amendment.  This was the first comprehensive attempt to overturn the infamous Roe v. Wade decision, and Senator Buckley’s 1975 floor speech in support of the amendment is a classic statement of the fundamental pro-life position.  (This speech can be found in the Human Life Review’s volume on “The Debate Since Roe” — a must read for pro-lifers)

Before the dinner, I had an opportunity to meet Mr. Buckley, and I was able to tell him that he has long been one of my heroes.  In his typically humble, self-effacing manner, he accepted my compliment and managed to turn it into a genial joke, precisely what one would expect from a true Catholic gentleman.

Last year, the honoree at the dinner was Paul Greenberg, the great journalist and essayist.  During his address, he said something that has stayed with me, and that should haunt all of us: “Whether the issue is civil rights in the middle years of the 20th Century or abortion and euthanasia today, a still small voice keeps asking: Whose side are you on? That of life or of death?”

To many of us, that still small voice was heard in the soft, erudite tones of our Senator James Buckley, speaking gently but firmly, giving witness consistently and heroically for life, and encouraging us all to join him in that noble cause.

May we all answer in the same way as did this Great Defender of Life.

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