The women’s marches and #MeToo show us that we are living in the wreckage Pope Paul VI warned would come to pass
I’ve been going to the March for Life on Washington, D.C., now for something like a quarter of a century, as best I can remember.
It’s quite infamous among marchers as rarely being well-covered by the media. A president calling in (Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush) or providing a satellite address from the Rose Garden (Donald Trump, this year), or the vice president attending (Mike Pence, last year), might help it merit a mention — for better or for worse.
This year, it made it above the fold in The New York Times, likely because of the seemingly insatiable thirst for coverage of all things involving the current president.
The March for Life is an event that overflows with hope, even as it marks a grave anniversary — the Supreme Court deciding to make abortion legal in all trimesters of a pregnancy (which polls suggest is one of the least-known realities in our country).
This year, it came not too long after the black-dressed Golden Globe awards, and just the day before a second year of women’s marches around the country.
Like the women’s marches and the Globes, the March for Life had one theme that seemed overwhelmingly clear, and maybe what you’d expect from an annual protest against the most intimate violence against a child in a mother’s womb: mourning and misery.
The March for Life is like a beacon of hope to the world, maybe one of the most well-kept secrets in our common civic life, such as it is. It involves overflowing churches in the nation’s capital filled with students who travel overnight on buses for an exercise in civil responsibility, steeped in prayer.
I ran into students from Louisiana just off their buses filling St. Matthew’s Cathedral for 8 a.m. Mass the morning before, as one of many examples. North Dakota brings a healthy contingent — 20 of them, students at the University of Mary in Bismarck (where I’m on the board of Regents), who found themselves at the Rose Garden by surprise before the March for Life (a boost for a college student, regardless of his or her opinion of the president).
And it’s not just religious folk — one of the first people I was introduced to in my hotel lobby was a self-identified atheist for life, who believes abortion just happens to be among the most pressing human-rights issues of our day, one that not only ends, but wrecks lives.
I remarked last year, standing on Fifth Avenue, as women’s marchers were on every side of me, that the women’s march appeared to be the place you went if you woke up upset about something.
“#Sad” was among the homemade signs. And besides the standard-issue Planned Parenthood signs in support of legal abortion, that was among the few signs I could quote here without having to veil expletives or issue a warning about what’s to come for any children who might happen upon this article. The crassness betrayed the misery that the politics of “reproductive rights” and abortion have brought with it into the lives of those it touches, and the life of a nation.
This year, this second women’s march was unmistakably an outgrowth, too, of the #MeToo movement that has been unleashed in the face of so many men behaving badly in the wake of Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer and so many ubiquitous personalities turning out to make sexual harassment and even assault a way of life, one all too accepted by people willing to look away.
The “#MeToo” hashtag that exists as a way for people to identify themselves as having been the victims of sexual assaults, provides a necessary penitential moment of reflection as we approach Lent, particularly Lent in this year of the 50th anniversary year of “Humanae Vitae” (“Of Human Life”). In 1968, Blessed Paul VI prophetically presented the Church and the world with this thesis:
"Men rightly observe that a conjugal act imposed on one’s partner without regard to his or her condition or personal and reasonable wishes in the matter, is no true act of love, and therefore offends the moral order in its particular application to the intimate relationship of husband and wife. If they further reflect, they must also recognize that an act of mutual love which impairs the capacity to transmit life which God the Creator, through specific laws, has built into it, frustrates his design which constitutes the norm of marriage, and contradicts the will of the Author of life. Hence to use this divine gift while depriving it, even if only partially, of its meaning and purpose, is equally repugnant to the nature of man and of woman, and is consequently in opposition to the plan of God and his holy will."
"But to experience the gift of married love while respecting the laws of conception is to acknowledge that one is not the master of the sources of life but rather the minister of the design established by the Creator. Just as man does not have unlimited dominion over his body in general, so also, and with more particular reason, he has no such dominion over his specifically sexual faculties, for these are concerned by their very nature with the generation of life, of which God is the source. “Human life is sacred — all men must recognize that fact,” our predecessor Pope John XXIII recalled. “From its very inception it reveals the creating hand of God.”
I suppose it could sound archaic these days, but there may just be enough misery for people to (re)consider it. Among other things, Pope Paul VI said that artificial birth control could “easily open wide the way for marital infidelity and a general lowering of moral standards.”
Another effect, the pope warned of: “A man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection.”
Now consider how much division we’ve had in the Church over birth control in the five decades since “Humanae Vitae” was issued. What if, instead of debating this encyclical, we had focused our energies on compellingly proposing it to the world and witnessing it to one another, supporting one another, loving one another in the truth of what it teaches — of how God made us to be?
We’re now living at a time that has new debates in some of the wreckage of what Pope Paul VI warned would come to pass.
Part of the hope we need to bring beyond our church and march gatherings is the promise that there is another, better way for us to live. We can live for one another, rather than be in constant hostility or competition, vying for attention in a reality of distractions. It’s the way God made us, for one another, for him. What more can we do in our lives together to make that known and shown, and to those for whom it might sound absolutely foreign if not impossible?
We, as a Church, have a great treasure. Our fathers saw it coming. What will we do to heal the pain and bring people home to God the Father who offers his Son for our healing and his Spirit to guide us in all manner of difficulties?
At the March for Life, it is common to see parishes gather under a banner with Our Lady of Guadalupe’s image. But how can we better help people know they have a mother in the Mother of God? We need men and women who believe it and want to make it known in the world as they pray to make it known in their lives, in all human relationships.
We don’t love one another as we should. In Lent, we have 40 days that even in the midst of the work of our lives, begs us to prioritize God in a renewed way, to prioritize prayer and love in the light of seeking his mercy.
What are we going to do to help all the people in our lives who may be suffering, some of them in some very dark silence? How can Lent make us more attentive to love? Thinking about Lent in this way, as more than giving up chocolate or whatever disciplines you’ve considered, might just help change the world, restore broken hearts and save souls, starting with your own.
Kathryn Jean Lopez is senior fellow at the National Review Institute, editor-at-large of National Review and a regular contributor to Angelus.