If I’m going to be completely honest, I cried a little as I listened to Donald Trump speak at the 47th March for Life. It was a combination of things, including lack of sleep, I’m sure. There are a lot of beautiful events before and after the march, and reunions with wonderful friends from across the country (it isn’t a March for Life for me without time with a college friend from North Dakota and some of his crew from the University of Mary in Bismarck there). The tears were definitely about the contrast of some of his beautiful words with the bile that we often hear in politics, including at some of his own rallies.
My first instinct, in fact, when I read the news that President Trump was going to speak at the March for Life rally, was to write a thank-you note to President George W. Bush for not attending. He would always call in, thus using the office of the presidency to promote an important cause, without getting in the way of it.
The reality about the March for Life that is most important to know is that so much of it is about joy and hope. Yes, it is a protest march, we are protesting the evil of abortion, around the annual anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision. But is also the witness of people who want something better for women than insisting they need to eliminate the developing lives of their children as a way to have a successful life — the witness of people who work to do something about it. The March for Life includes people who have made life possible.
I’m always moved by the people who come to March for Life in wheelchairs and with walkers and who have Down Syndrome and other obvious challenges. I met two of them, toddlers, Maria and Andrew from New York, at a Mass for pilgrims (because the March is overwhelmingly about prayer for so many who make the trek — thousands from St. Louis alone, taking over Crystal City, Va., hotels, for instance). I’m always overwhelmed by the youth who pack churches and arenas and this year the Washington Convention Center (The Students for Life), who testify to the future of the movement.
But it’s not just the young who give me hope. Far from it. Around the March for Life this year, I spent some time with the Sisters of Life who really make life possible for so many. They tell testimonies of women who have spent years suffering the aftereffects of an abortion long ago. Some reach their elderly years without having been able to grieve the loss of their child and the associated regrets about lost dreams. Everyone is different, but abortion changes you. And it changes a culture. (And then there are the Little Sisters of the Poor and their incredible service and elderly poor residents, but that’s another column.)
I firmly believe that a lot of the anger and hate in our politics today stems from all these years of legal abortion. And as we inch (or race, as it sometimes seems) toward the 50-year mark, I feel the urgency for healing and a better way more and more every second of the day, and in an especially heightened way on days like this.
I’m a big believer in conversion. I pray that my entire life is about conversion — deeper immersion in the things of God and love for His creation, especially the human person. I pray that the words that the president spoke at the March about God’s grace and unselfish love are things that he and all elected officials and anyone in any kind of leadership — in the human family, everywhere and anywhere — have real unfiltered encounters with. I pray for wisdom. I pray that the truth about people being made in the image and likeness of God is known and believed and acted on. Don’t we all? Can we all?
I cried during the president’s remarks because I know how people react to him. I know that when he talked about Democrats and why the Left attacks him, he started to resemble the latest episode in the reality-TV show that is our national politics now. He didn’t start that fire. And while he has been in the White House, he has done some things I am certainly grateful for. But at Mass before the March, Cardinal Timothy Dolan from New York talked noted that it was exactly and only a month ago from the day of the March for Life this year that all the world stopped to celebrate the birth of a child. That was Christmas, and everything hinges on whether we protect and welcome and love and nourish the child. Cardinal Dolan kissed little Maria in her wheelchair a little later in the morning. Stopping and focusing on the beauty of a child can change us. Making room for a child who isn’t our responsibility by worldly, conventional standards can change her life and ours and the soul of our society. (Full disclosure: I’m currently chair of Cardinal Dolan’s pro-life commission in New York.)
I cried because I believe healing is possible. I believe conversion is possible. The March for Life is the most encouraging event of the year, every year it gets younger and more joyful. The president’s showing up raised things to a new level and made the media pay attention. I just pray that some of his words will help to make his heart more tender. Based on the disaster that is the Democratic party right now, I expect we will be seeing another four years of Donald Trump. Please may they be more tender years. He said so many of the right things in his March for Life speech. Please live and breathe them, Mr. President.
With God anything is possible.
This column is based on one available through Andrews McMeel Universal’s Newspaper Enterprise Association.