Last month I took part in a pro-life congress sponsored by the Archdiocese of Miami called Congreso Pro Vida. Talks were given in Spanish, English, and Creole. Mine, given in Spanish, was titled “Encuentra Tu Voz” (“Find Your Voice”), and centered on how to become a public voice on life issues meaningful to Catholics.
I shared my own story with the audience: how I went from being a complacent pro-life Catholic, satisfied with helping out at our parish diaper drive and accepting my own children as blessings, to becoming a vocal advocate for the dignity of life.
I also told them about my falling-off-my-horse conversion, which started with the adoption of our fifth child from China. The knowledge that she was one of those inconvenient children, discarded by a society and an escapee from termination who miraculously made it into our open arms, inspired in me a desire to save the rest of these little angels. Of course, I couldn’t save them all, but it became blindingly clear that I had the duty to do as much as I could.
The particulars of my story after that, although I shared them, were not important. It was the general shape of the transformation that I thought was worth communicating. There in the audience were good men and women from every social class and profession, with differing talents and strengths, eager to sweeten the bitterness of modern society that uses and discards remorselessly.
But what does it take to find that voice?
First, I told them, is a strong interior life. Like every noble quest, our advocacy has to start with Christ in the center and radiate outwardly. Daily mental prayer and frequent Communion and confession keep us in a state of grace and point all our work toward the glory of God, rather than our own.
We rectify our intentions, curb our passions, soften our tone, and see souls in need everywhere, when we have a strong interior life. We tamp down that need to win arguments and oppose for the sake of opposing and triumphing. We avoid, in a word, voluntarism, in which our will to dominate and succeed makes all our hard work sterile.
Besides making us fruitful, our interior life also fills us with the confidence of one who knows he is a child of God, and that if we are soldiers in a battle, it is only one of many battles of a war that has already been won.
Second: unity of life. Our own personal lives have to be all of a piece, with no incongruities to mar our message. I’m not talking about being perfected saints on earth, although our own sanctification should be our constant preoccupation. But the way we speak, the pastimes we seek, our outward appearance, should all be a shining example in a dark world.
How many times have we heard (or made) a flippant comment about children as burdens, or the elderly as useless charges? Being pro-life through and through creates a quiet example, at home and at work, at school and with our friends: treating our own body with respect, clothing it in modesty, enriching with our example the attractiveness of parenthood and the family, and always exhibiting those delicacies of human interaction that work against degradation and vulgarity.
Third: Search for the way our own personal experiences and perspective point out some distinct shape for our advocacy. For me, I explained, it was the adoption of an abandoned child and my work as a radiologist. Time and again I’ve used my little fetal patients, and my daughter’s tremendous worth as a daughter of God, to move hearts. Everyone has these lights, in some form, that can be used to illuminate the dark corners of the culture of death.
And fourth, and perhaps hardest of all: audacity and a fine disdain for the respect of the world. It takes a strong backbone to stand up when everyone around you is sitting complacently. It takes a special kind of detachment to disregard those whose opinion you value and risk having them write you off as a crank. It takes courage to keep finding opportunities to communicate, teach, explain, protect, and protest in a society that is very much going in the wrong direction. You’ll feel out of joint, but after a while it can come as natural as breathing.
And if you are afraid of looking ridiculous or clumsy, well, you will learn to laugh heartily at your own wounded vanity. After all, the dignity we should be most concerned about is the dignity of the “other,” not our own.