40 Days for Life has come back to the Chicago area. The Aurora vigil began with a candlelight, ecumenical prayer service which 70 people attended. Here in Chicago we had about 100 attend our prayer service, which included a Rosary led by Msgr. Dempsey and music led by musicians from Couples for Christ Foundation for Family and Life.
There were about eight counter-protesters present during our ceremony. They held signs which read “trust women”—George Tiller’s curious motto. Personally, I think it’s missing words at the beginning and end, like “Don’t trust women to be mothers.” They tried to out-shout our prayers, but we easily overwhelmed their jeers with our prayers to Our Savior.
Interestingly, in another sign that 40 Days must really bother the clinic staff and must hurt business, Friday afternoon the clinic covered their fence with a gray tarp. Now only our feet are visible from inside the parking lot. Naturally the girls still have to pass us before they turn in to the lot-but it makes one wonder what’s going on inside the building if they have to try to shut us out like that.
The Meaning of Forty Days
I’m making another attempt to read Pope Benedict’s Jesus of Nazareth. In his chapter on the Temptation, the Pope gives an excellent concise summary of the significance of 40 Days, let me read it to you:
Jesus “fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterward he was hungry” (Mt 4:2). In Jesus’ day the number forty was already filled with rich symbolism for Israel. First of all, it recalls Israel’s forty years’ wandering in the desert, a period in which the people were both tempted and enjoyed a special closeness to God. The forty days and nights also remind us of the forty days that Moses spent on Mount Sinai before he was privileged to receive the word of God, the sacred tablets of the Covenant. They may also serve as a reminder of the rabbinic tale of how Abraham spent forty days and forty nights on the way to Mount Horeb, where he was to sacrifice his son, how during that time he neither ate nor drank anything and nourished himself on the vision and words of the angel who accompanied him.
The Fathers of the Church, stretching number symbolism in an admittedly slightly playful way, regarded forty as a cosmic number, as the numerical sign for this world. The four “corners” encompass the whole world, and ten is the number of the commandments. The number of the cosmos multiplied by the number of the commandments becomes a symbolic statement about the history of this world as a whole. It is as if Jesus were reliving Israel’s Exodus, and then reliving the chaotic meanderings of history in general; the forty days of fasting embrace the drama of history, which Jesus takes into himself and bears all the way through to the end.