Conversion to the Gospel of Life
1/1/2018Supreme Chaplain Archbishop William E. Lori
Reflecting on questions about the dignity of life can lead us to God’s goodness and love
THE SPIRIT of the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C., is extraordinary. It is not only peaceful but also full of hope and joy. It is forward-looking as it seeks to create a culture of life and love. And while it draws people of all ages, the crowd tends to be young, including many millennials and young families. Standing in the crowd, you feel as though you’re at a version of World Youth Day — filled with the conviction that human life is God’s precious gift and that each person, from the moment of conception, is endowed by the Creator with inviolable dignity and, indeed, “a right to life.”
When I attend the March for Life each January, I invariably catch a cold, but it’s worth it. I come home with a renewed determination to resist what Pope Francis calls “the throwaway culture” and to foster genuine love and respect for human life, especially when it is defenseless.
I often ask myself what draws so many people to this event. What makes them travel great distances, spend sleepless nights on buses, and stand for hours on cold, soggy ground? Is it merely a political movement, or is it something more? The answer, I think, is that the Lord is at work in the minds and hearts of these good people and many more like them. The word for it has to be “conversion” — the Lord is converting minds and hearts to the Gospel of Life. And I would further offer that this process of conversion takes place within us on three levels — intellectual, moral and religious.
We commonly think of conversion solely as a religious experience, such as coming to faith in Christ or converting to Catholicism. Yet conversion has other meanings as well. In general, it is a change of direction in our lives that takes us beyond ourselves, beyond our limited point of view, beyond our purely personal interests — or, as Pope Francis would say, beyond our comfort zone. It is a shift that leads us to strive to be better, more authentic versions of ourselves.
Conversion is thus a common human experience. And as noted above, it often occurs on three levels in our lives. Let’s look at all three to understand more deeply the ways in which people can be converted to the truth and beauty of the Gospel of Life.
First, intellectual conversion begins when we start asking questions and challenging assumptions. We begin to wonder whether what we had assumed to be true is in fact true. We question the rhetoric and hype that we hear and see.
Many people who once considered themselves avidly “pro-choice” arrived at a point in their lives when they started asking questions about arguments for abortion, leading them to ultimately change their minds. At a certain point, they took seriously the philosophical arguments and scientific evidence advanced in favor of the humanity of the unborn child. For others, the breakthrough experience came when they actually saw an unborn child via an ultrasound machine. Indeed, this is the case for many as a result of the Knights of Columbus Ultrasound Initiative.
MOVED TO GRATITUDE
A change of mind often leads to a change in one’s actions, to moral conversion — to a different way of understanding, judging and acting. As a rule, people see themselves as reasonable and conscientious. When individuals take that view of themselves seriously, they may arrive at a point when they become uncomfortable making decisions and acting solely on the basis of what they think is in their best interest. They start thinking not only about their own problems, comfort or convenience. They start asking about what really matters, what is really important in life. In other words, they become concerned about virtues and values.
When people become convinced of the value of human life, they may be led to make difficult choices. Their newfound support for the cause of life may alienate friends and colleagues. A woman experiencing a difficult pregnancy may find the courage to bring her child to term in spite of her family’s opposition.
Even as individuals undergo intellectual and moral conversion, something deeper may be going on in the depths of their being — namely, a genuine religious conversion. After all, once life is understood as a precious gift, many are struck by the thought that God loves what he has made. From there, it is a short step to thank the Creator for the gift of life and, in so doing, to fall in love with him.
We are prompted to believe in, trust and worship the living God, thanking him for creating each person in his image; thanking him for sending his Son to assume and redeem our humanity; thanking him for calling us to friendship with himself.
Thus, intellectual convictions and moral choices in favor of life become surrounded by God’s grace and love. This experience transforms us deeply and fills our pro-life advocacy with genuine love of God and neighbor. We then become not only advocates for life but also witnesses to the God of love who created and redeemed us.
This, I think, explains the joy I experience each year when I take part in the March for Life. I hope you’ll experience that same joy!