40 Days for Life is kicking off its fall campaign this week. Of the many efforts to stop abortion in America, few are succeeding like this peaceful, prayerful protest. This year’s campaign includes 367 vigil locations in the U.S. with 23 other countries hosting campaigns. Since its inception in 2007, nearly 12,000 babies have been saved (that they know of), 75 abortion clinics have closed, and 133 abortion clinic workers have quit.
But what does this have to do with our election? While the 40 day campaign is set to end just two days shy of election day, the bigger issue is our leadership. Polls are showing that dissatisfaction with the two candidates for president is widespread, with voters in both parties unhappy with their candidate. Many are asking how out of all the people in the county, the race has narrowed down to these two. But for one priest, the answer to such a question was no mystery.
Fr. James Flanagan (1924-2016), the founder of the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity (SOLT), often commented about the crisis of abortion in the world. More than once I heard him say, “Whenever the Israelites were disobedient, the first thing the Lord did was take away their leadership.” Leadership, Fr. Flanagan made clear, was a gift given to those honoring their relationship to God and following his laws. The Old Testament is marked by cycles of obedience and disobedience or the rending and repairing of the relationship between God and his people. In times of repentance and obedience, leadership was strong, while the times of disobedience were marked by weak or vicious leaders, resulting in wandering, exile, enslavement, and bloodshed.
Fr. Flanagan, who passed away in March, would explain that abortion is the largest issue driving a wedge between us and God. “Until it ends, America will not have good leaders.” The crisis of leadership isn’t just at the top, but plagues every level of our society. Abortion doesn’t just kill an innocent, unborn child; its tentacles destroy every aspect of society, beginning at the head.
“It is all about relationship!” Father would stress. And by this, he meant our relationship to God as well as the relationships with those around us on earth. At its heart, abortion destroys the relationship between men and women, parents and children, creating deep wounds that so many of us carry, unaware of the havoc they wreak in our lives. St. Teresa of Calcutta said it best in her 1994 amicus brief to the Supreme Court of the United States:
America needs no words from me to see how your decision in Roe v. Wade has deformed a great nation. The so-called right to abortion has pitted mothers against their children and women against men. It has sown violence and discord at the heart of the most intimate human relationships. It has aggravated the derogation of the father's role in an increasingly fatherless society. It has portrayed the greatest of gifts--a child--as a competitor, an intrusion, and an inconvenience. It has nominally accorded mothers unfettered dominion over the independent lives of their physically dependent sons and daughters. And, in granting this unconscionable power, it has exposed many women to unjust and selfish demands from their husbands or other sexual partners.
These deformed relationships — particularly the gaping hole between man and God — is also part of the reason why so many secular and political efforts to stop abortion have been thwarted. The end of abortion will come through prayer, fasting, and a restoration of our relationship with God, or it simply will not happen through our efforts. Fr. Flanagan would say, “Either we will stop it or God will stop it, but we won’t like the way God stops it.”
I first heard Fr. Flanagan say this back in 2005, but the last 11 years have only proven his point further. Additionally, he warned that our battle is steeper because the media is so biased against life — and when you have the media (journalists, Hollywood, the music industry, social media, etc..), millions are unwittingly manipulated by their anti-life message at every turn.
While most of us feel helpless in the face of the election and the juggernaut of abortion in our country (3,000 children are killed every day), there is something that can be done, as 40 Days for Life has shown. As we see in Scripture, God in his faithfulness will throw us a lifeline as long as we are willing to ask for it. Jeremiah offers great hope, explaining that the shepherds who scatter the flock will be destroyed for their evil deeds, but also that the Lord himself will bring about the renewal with a small flock. “I myself will gather the remnant of my flock from all the lands to which I have banished them and bring them back to their folds; there they shall be fruitful and multiply. I will raise up shepherds for them who will shepherd them so that they need no longer fear or be terrified; none shall be missing” (Jeremiah 23:1-4).
This passage also reminds us of the vital importance of fertility. Abortion, ultimately, is about sterility, sterility of relationships and the smothering of love. Fulton Sheen once said, “Love that refuses to share kills its own power to love.”
40 Days for Life, through prayer, fasting, obedience, and witness to Jeremiah’s “missing” are answering this Godly call. And no matter how much stonewalling happens through the media, the courts, congress, and even the President, none can compete with the power of prayer and fasting by humble men and women.
The sheep are gathering at the places where the lambs are being sacrificed. Please consider joining them — for their sake and ours.