July 1, 2022

Reflection / John Shaughnessy

In a time of division, can there be a bridge that connects us?

John ShaughnessyIt may be the only point that people on both sides agreed with after the Supreme Court’s decision on June 24 to end national legalized abortion in the United States.

In describing the decision, Indiana Right to Life president Mike Fichter called it a “monumentally historic ruling.”

For people who have long waited and passionately strived for the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling to be overturned, it is a time to celebrate, to give thanks, to solemnly remember the millions of lives that have been lost in the past nearly 50 years.

For people who have long believed that choosing to have an abortion is a woman’s constitutional right, it is a time of anger and mourning.

It is also a time when the increasing division in the United States is ramped up to an even more heated level, leading me to wonder if there will ever come a time when the divisions in our society can be bridged in some way.

A glimmer of that hope came in another statement that Fichter made after the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a statement that both sides of the issue seemingly embrace.

Fichter said, “At the same time, and this is critical, we must be a state that shows support and care for pregnant mothers choosing life in Indiana. That’s a key element of caring for babies and caring for moms that is critical at this moment.”

That glimmer of hope for some measure of potential unity was tested in reality a morning later when pro-life and pro-choice groups held separate rallies on different parts of the grounds of the Indiana Statehouse in Indianapolis.

As I headed there that morning, my wife was concerned and even fearful of what might happen as there was no doubt that the two groups would cross paths on their way to their respective rallies—the pro-life group to peacefully pray, the pro-choice group to peacefully protest.

And except for a smattering of heated verbal exchanges between individuals that ended quickly, the two camps mostly co-existed peacefully until a very small group of protestors—about 15 or so—disrupted the prayer gathering, some of them weaving through it with their protest signs while others tried to shout down some of the prayer gathering’s speakers.

Amid that tense situation, the microphone was passed to Father Rick Nagel, the pastor of nearby St. John the Evangelist Parish. As some pro-choice advocates continued to yell, the priest hid the fact that his heart was pounding in that moment by delivering a calm tribute to all the people—including his parents and grandparents—who “have peacefully and prayerfully marched for life for nearly 50 years now,” thanking them for their courage.

At the same time, Father Nagel extended his final blessing toward both the protestors and the prayer group. As a few protestors continued to shout, he prayed, “Bless all of my brothers and sisters who gather here today, some who feel differently, who believe differently than we do. We love them, we care for them, we bless them this day in your name.”

After he gave the final blessing and a calmer atmosphere returned to the area, Father Nagel stood in the shadow of a large tree and talked about one of the most important points he wanted to convey in that tense moment.

“I just felt a real sense of making sure to tell people that God loves them. Sometimes people don’t know that—people who are so angry, so hurt, so broken—that there’s a God who loves them, too. There’s no reason to be combative. You want to speak the truth with charity. That’s all we can do these days. We have to love people through it.”

After saying goodbye to Father Nagel, I walked to my car, soon blending in with a sea of people who were leaving the protest rally. Their signs were at their sides and some of them talked quietly with a friend or loved one as we all waited together at a street corner for a traffic light to change. When it did, we moved together, all of us heading back to our homes, our lives.

As I walked, two images from that morning stayed in my mind. The first one involved two women—one pro-life, one pro-choice—talking softly with each other, sharing their views and their thoughts about motherhood in a conversation that included tears.

The other thought that stayed with me was a conversation I had with a grandmother at the prayer gathering. At one point, she talked about the gifts she has received in being a parent to her children, smiling as she said that being a parent never ends even when your children are grown with children of their own. She talked about learning the gifts of sacrifice, humility and love. And then she added another part of parenting, “loving when you think you can’t give anymore.”

Loving when you think you can’t give anymore.

It is the challenge of parenting.

It is the challenge of this time in the United States, the continuing challenge to create a society where we all want every child to be embraced, supported and loved.

Loving when you think you can’t give anymore is also the example that Christ offered us when he suffered and died on the cross for all humanity.

It will always be the bridge that connects every one of us.

(John Shaughnessy is the assistant editor of The Criterion.)

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