I’ve been going to the March for Life since I was in college. After a few years of getting lost in the crowd, my new tradition is to run or Uber ahead to the Supreme Court, spend some time with the demonstrators outside and then meet the march as it comes up the hill. And, oh my goodness -- it is overwhelming. I run into friends and colleagues and readers. I see people from North Dakota, Nebraska and Sydney, Australia. It’s a grand reunion and meet-up of people not only protesting the Supreme Court’s 46-year-old Roe v. Wade decision that paved the way for legal abortion, but celebrating life as a whole.
The march and so many of the events around it are simply and powerfully countercultural. Consider the Mass the night before. There were 500 seminarians there -- that is, young men studying to be Catholic priests. That’s remarkable. What I wish I could capture are the faces. The gazes of hope and joy -- even in the face of exhaustion. You see love -- love of life, love of fellow men, love of innocence.
“Let us always meet each other with a smile, for the smile is the beginning of love,” Mother Teresa of Calcutta is said to have pronounced. This advice is followed at the March for Life. The joy expressed there is contagious, and I always try to carry it with me when I leave. Of course, try smiling at strangers in New York and you get mixed reactions, often a double-take from a person who assumes you know them and they’ve forgotten. Which, actually, is part of the point. You remind a person that he or she is noticed. At this time when there seems to be an epidemic of loneliness, isn’t this the very least we could do for each other?
The March for Life this year may have gone largely unnoticed, as it often does, despite 100,000 people participating, had it not been for that infamous viral video of a group of Kentucky Catholic school students and a man with a drum. The whole beginning of the story seemed to turn on the look on the boy’s face. When people went on to seem more of the video footage, the story got much more complicated. As so often is the case with life. So much has been said, and so much will continue to be said. And what I keep thinking about are the repercussions for all of us beyond quick reactions on social media. We make hasty or ill-founded assumptions all the time; should we be letting them define our lives and harm the lives of others? Especially now that social media has made it so easy to act on those assumptions and greatly amplified the consequences of our reckless actions?
The main question I keep reflecting on is: How do we look at people? Etched in my memory are scenes of Mass attendees staring disapprovingly at the young mom trying to pray with her crying baby. The whole community needs to serve as a model of how to pray with love, and welcome all those who would join in, regardless of their station.
Can we look at people, even those with whom we vehemently disagree, with love? With a smile? Or even with just a dose of humility? What if respecting each other's common humanity caused people of differing views to have conversations instead of confrontations? It's hard to conceive of in our current climate, but that's the radical sort of thing that Jesus asks us to not only imagine, but work to bring about. There’s a lot to be encouraged by in the faces of the kids who come to the March for Life this year and every year. Learning about faith, hope and love from those smiles may just be a baby step toward changing everything.