Out praying at the Planned Parenthood facility in Aurora, Illinois last Friday, I was reminded of an important point made by Fr. Frank Pavone in a talk once. Father Frank asked what the first step of any effective pro-life effort must be. As I would guess most in the audience did, I thought, “Prayer.” But Father Frank took it deeper than that.
He explained that the first thing we must do, if our pro-life witness is to be effective, is to repent. One might think that to repent is to pray, but repentence per se is an act prior to prayer. It is the admission, in the dark of one’s own heart, that one has sinned, and stands in need of healing grace.
Our Prayer Must Begin with Repentance
What reminded me of Father Frank’s insight were the prayers in the Third Hour of the Pro-Life Action League’s new Life Witness Prayer Book, which my assistant Matt and I were reciting. The prayer book includes four hours of prayer, with the third hour dominated by the Stations for the Cross and the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary—and filled with exhortations to repent.
For example, in the First Station (Jesus is Condemned to Death), we pray, “My innocent Jesus, often, rather than offend men, I have forsaken You,” and in the Fifth (Simon of Cyrene Helps Jesus Carry the Cross), “Let me be ashamed that, like Simon, I so often carry the cross only on compulsion.”
And then there’s this from the Ninth Station (Jesus Falls the Third Time):
Make me firm in my resolve ever to be honest in admitting my guilt; make me ever ready to endure any embarrassment, to tolerate any consequences, rather than fail to confess and atone for my sins.
What’s especially significant about each of these calls for repentance is that they precede prayers for abortion-bound mothers, abortuary staff, abortion supporters, pro-abortion choice politicians and so forth. We do not offer prayers for these souls involved in the sin of abortion without first admitting our own sinfulness and begging God’s mercy.
A Dangerous Business
It’s dangerous business, praying for sinners. It’s too easy to slip into the pride of ranking oneself above those “sinners” one is praying for—especially when the sin is as serious as abortion.
In the grand scheme of things, the Enemy may score a greater victory when a pro-life prayer warrior allows pride to blind him to his own profound need for mercy, than when a woman in desperate circumstances goes through with an abortion.
After all, Our Lord had stronger words for the prideful Pharisees than for the woman taken in adultery, or the woman at the well.
At the same time, it is not enough to speak piously of one’s own wretchedness as a rhetorical exercise, a nod and a wink to the doctrine that all men, including oneself, belong to the class of sinners. This awareness of being a sinner in need of mercy must go to the heart.
Remember the Mystery of Calvary
And that’s why I so appreciate the Third Hour in the new prayer book, especially the Stations of the Cross. The prayer warrior’s need—my need—for divine mercy is sharply focused through the lens of Christ’s journey to Calvary.
We often speak of the abortuary as a kind of Calvary: where innocent blood is shed, where God’s image is defiled. Let us always remember that it was our sins Christ carried on the cross with Him.
It is only by virtue of His mercy that we can effectively intercede in prayer outside the modern day Calvary.
You can learn more about the new Life Witness Prayer Book and order your own copy at the League store.