LifeSiteNews recently published a beautiful reflection by Christine Dhanagom entitled “My Sister Joan: Lessons from a Pro-Life Activist Now Behind Cloister Walls.”
Christine notes that their parents named her sister for “two zealous activists”: one being St. Joan of Arc, the other being Joan Andrews Bell, who has been imprisoned countless times in her long career as a pro-life activist. (She also mentions that their brother Joe was named after St. Joseph, as well as my boss, Joe Scheidler, founder of the Pro-Life Action League.)
On August 1st, 2008, Joan Walsh—then a teenager—was one of 18 pro-lifers wrongfully arrested by Maryland state troopers for doing nothing more than peacefully exercising their First Amendment rights by displaying graphic abortion signs along public streets during Defend Life’s annual “Face the Truth” Tour in Bel Air, Maryland.
An iconic photo of Joan being handcuffed stands as a testament to the outrage (see above, left).
She and the 17 other pro-life activists who were arrested that day eventually won a $385,000 settlement last year, but Joan has elected to leave behind her portion, choosing instead to become a contemplative nun in a Poor Clare monastery, where she now goes by the name Sister Mary Damiana of the King of Glory.
Christine writes beautifully about what Sister Damiana’s decision to “leave the world” can teach the rest of us who are still in it:
She has chosen a life that confounds the culture of death, which depends on the clamor and ceaseless distraction of the modern world to drown out the quiet voice of conscience.
But it is also, I have come to realize, a life that challenges those of us who remain on the street corners from which she has retired, trying to make ourselves heard over all that noise.
It is an enormous burden that the pro-life activist has taken upon his or her shoulders. In the midst of a world ravaged by the effects of the sexual revolution and a culture that has abandoned all moorings of truth, tradition and faith, we work for an end to abortion, protection for the terminally ill and elderly, the defense of traditional family structures.
If these things ever come to be, we will have to acknowledge that a miracle has taken place. And miracles only come through God’s grace, which is poured out only in answer to prayer.
“More things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of,” wrote Alfred Lord Tennyson.
How very true it is, and how incredibly easy to forget. How incredibly easy, for those of us immersed in the daily grind of the active apostolate, to fall into that deadly error: the savior complex.
“If only I could find just the right words,” I have found myself thinking many times as an activist, a sidewalk counselor, a writer. “Surely I can help this person see how erroneous their thinking is, surely I can convince this woman not to abort her baby.”
But I am not this person’s savior, I have to continually remind myself. That job has been taken. And if God should choose to use my words, I have no doubt that the credit is due first to Him who completed that task two thousand years ago, and second to some humble, holy, unheard of Christian I have never met whose prayers are calling down heavenly graces at this moment.
There are no savior complexes in the Monastery, none of the pitfalls and illusions to which the activist is so prone. Their only recourse in the face of the world’s misery is to throw themselves on their knees before God Almighty. And because they have staked their lives not on the success of any earthly mission or project, but only on His love, they utter that Christian caveat to every petition, “Thy will be done,” with a sincerity that most of us can only envy.
It is in this that the lives of those who have chosen Sr. Damiana’s path stand as a witness to those of us called to the battlefield. We all have a Divinely ordained part to play, and for most of us that will mean remaining in the world. But all of our work, however noble, will come to nothing unless we are truly possessed of the conviction that nothing comes to anything but through the grace of God.
Truly, as the example of Sister Damiana—and, indeed, all contemplatives—reminds us, when we are engaged in pro-life activism, or for that matter, any other apostolate, we must remember that it’s not about us.
Rather, it’s about God, and about submitting ourselves to His holy will.