Sep 162009

By Frank Wessling

“Everyone will know you are my disciples if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).

The first Christians were said to be notable in their culture for the loving kindness they maintained among themselves. This needs recalling across the church today. It suggests that our light shines as a consequence of the love, the genuine friendship that people see in our community. We don’t impress the world as much by preaching and argument as we do by the witness of our lives.

Our light dims when we are split by angry judgment from within. This is too often the story that goes with our horror and sadness over abortion. Some of us react with a rush to do something. And when urgency takes over, the first practical thing to do seems obvious: stop the killing. We won’t allow it. Simply stop it. And we lose our balance.

For some of us, this has become such a priority that it clouds our judgment as Christians. We want the law to stop abortion, simply stop it, stop it now. If anyone is not with us on this political priority, then that person or those people deserve harsh judgment. If they are among our company of God’s elect, they must be cast out. Any other good that someone does is put aside as irrelevant.

It goes to such an extreme in some people that they will condemn even those who show sympathy or friendship to a supposed outcast. An example of that occurred in Boston earlier this month when the Cardinal Archbishop of Boston, Sean O’Malley, participated in Senator Edward Kennedy’s funeral. The cardinal received angry complaints about that. Kennedy had not been a political friend of the antiabortion cause. How could a church leader publicly bless him in death?

Cardinal O’Malley responded to the complaints with a statement that firmly brings us back to the center of our religious commitment as Catholic Christians. This is what he wrote:

“At times, even in the church, zeal can lead people to issue harsh judgments and impute the worst motives to one another. These attitudes and practices do irreparable damage to the communion of the church. If any cause is motivated by judgment, anger or vindictiveness, it will be doomed to marginalization and failure.

“Jesus’ words to us were that we must love one another as he loves us. Jesus loves us while we are still in sin. He loves each of us first, and he loves us to the end. Our ability to change people’s hearts and help them to grasp the dignity of each and every life, from the first moment of conception to the last moment of natural death, is directly related to our ability to increase love and unity in the church, for our proclamation of the truth is hindered when we are divided and fighting with each other….

“It is my sincere hope that all people who long to promote the cause of life will pray and work together to change hearts, to bring about an increased respect for life, and to change laws so as to make America a safe place for all, including the unborn.”

When the desire to do something about abortion becomes urgent, the first pro-life response should be a prayer for help to be an example of Christ’s love. A good many Catholics are apparently doing that, as shown by peaceful and prayerful witness at abortion centers, reasoned argument with politicians and supporters of abortion choice, and contributions to agencies and programs that help pregnant women in need.

We don’t heal the world’s sicknesses by anger and bickering among ourselves. Nor is such behavior attractive. If we aren’t better lovers, why should anyone pay attention to us?

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