The Spirit of Activism

The Spirit of Activism

This article is based on a talk I recently gave to a group of Catholic students in Melbourne. Readers will note that, while pro-life apologetics is important, our spiritual basis must first be very firm before we engage in any form of activism. We must be very certain that God wants us to serve Him in pro-life activism and also be sure of the guiding principles we need to use in this work.

What is an activist?

What do you think of when someone mentions the word, “activist”?

Perhaps you think of loud protesters taking to the streets with signs and loudspeakers?

Or maybe you think of someone taking a video of themselves burning a flag and sharing it on social media?

Or you might have a mental picture of an angry feminist with writing on her chest, rushing onto the sanctuary and interrupting Mass?

These are all forms of activism, to be sure, but may not be the most effective kind. I believe that the Catholic, pro-life activist will be very different from these examples – and not because our ideology is different.

I put it to you that a Catholic, pro-life activist is more like the knight pictured below: prayerful, intentional, and adhering to a very strict code of conduct. We must prepare in silent vigil, before dedicating ourselves to defending the weak and vulnerable.

We must become a spiritual warrior, trained in the virtues, with the heart of an evangelist.

 

The Spirit of Activism

The Spiritual Warrior

We must not be under any illusions about the type of battle we’re engaged in: pro-life work is spiritual warfare. It only takes a short amount of time spent outside an abortion facility to see this firsthand. There is something other-worldly going on inside an abortion facility – remember, this building has been designed and set aside for the shedding of innocent blood. It is no ordinary building. And the people who work there are not ordinary people. Their callousness and bitterness are obvious and their attitude toward us goes way beyond simple disagreement or distaste for our opinion. There is evident a deep-seated rage which can only have something diabolical at its source.

The spiritual warrior, like the natural warrior, requires training for the task at hand. This training involves both education about the nature of our work and practice in using the weapons that were designed for this fight.

If we fail to recognise this diabolical component, it becomes all too easy for the scourges that plague the pro-life community to get a foothold: pride and division and fear. Pride builds us up into something we are not and can take us on a path that is not from God. Division tears apart organisations and wounds relationships between different pro-life groups; it causes us to move our focus and energy away from the task at hand. Fear, also, can limit our potential and cause us to hold back when we should move or speak. But with a right understanding of the nature of our work, these dangers can be averted, or at least minimised.

Once the battle has been acknowledged, we need to make a commitment to the discipline of regular prayer: this is our arsenal of weapons. Catholics are blessed to be able to draw on the tradition of a daily routine of set prayers. The Angelus, morning offering, rosary,  Mass if we can make it, and nightly examination of conscience: these must become part of our daily life if we are serious about becoming a spiritual warrior. We also need to talk to God in an informal way – we need to be aware of His presence with us throughout the day. It is not enough to call on God only when we are in trouble – such as the night before an exam when we haven’t studied enough!

Scripture, too, should be a regular part of our day. [An easy way to keep up with reading the bible is to download an app onto your phone and read at least the Mass readings for the day. I use an app called Laudate, which also includes popular prayers and saints of the day, as well as the prayers of the Novus Ordo and Extraordinary Form of the Mass.]

Additionally, from time to time, every activist also needs to seek out a spiritual booster shot like a retreat or a prayer group. One excellent regular boost is Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. I’d go so far as to say that Adoration is necessary for every pro-life activist – and for some, is itself a form of activism. The contemplative orders around the world are undoubtedly the source of all of the effective work done by activists. They are hidden, we are public – but it is their prayers that make our work bear fruit.

Some daily essentials:
  • Prayer to end abortion
  • Scripture
  • Armour of God: Ephesians 6: 10-17
  • The Rosary
  • The prayers of the Auxilium Christianorum are very powerful prayers for spiritual warfare.
  • Daily Mass, if possible. Sundays are non-negotiable.

The Cardinal Virtues

Virtues are basically good habits. Training in the virtues is an essential part of being a Christian and is no less important for activists.

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, ‘Four virtues play a pivotal role and accordingly are called “cardinal”; all the others are grouped around them. They are: prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance. “If anyone loves righteousness, [Wisdom’s] labors are virtues; for she teaches temperance and prudence, justice, and courage.” These virtues are praised under other names in many passages of Scripture.’

 

Prudence: “Knowing what to seek and what to avoid” – St. Augustine

Prudence is the first of the cardinal virtues because it is the ability to look at a concrete situation and know what ought to be done. It is the ability to make right judgments. Prudence gives us the knowledge of what must be done, when it must be done, and how it must be done. There is often a great misunderstanding about the real nature of prudence, so let’s begin by saying what prudence is not. Prudence is not timidity, an avoidance of all danger, cowardice, lack of initiative, self-preservation, never spending any money, or an excessive focus on manners (e.g., the term “prude”). On the contrary, sometimes true prudence could lead one to dive on a grenade, fight courageously, say things which are very awkward or politically incorrect, make a huge investment venture, or be open to having a fifth, maybe even a tenth child. (Click here to learn more about prudence}

 

Justice: “The habit of making men capable of doing just acts” – Aristotle

If you asked a group of people what the idea of “justice” conjured up in their minds, most would probably tell you it made them think of a criminal getting punished. This is a sadly limited and negative conception of justice. The classical understanding, by contrast, held up justice as that noble virtue by which we to give others what is their due. The just person is always sure to fulfill his obligations towards everyone. He sees to it that he does not withhold what rightly belongs to another. (Click here to learn more about justice}

Fortitude: “Deliberate facing of dangers and bearing of toils” – Cicero

In our lives many situations arise in which it becomes difficult to do the right thing, even when we know what it is. There may be all sorts of reasons for why it is disagreeable to act according to what we know is best. In order to stay strong, to do what is good, we need the third cardinal virtue, known alternately as fortitude, courage, or bravery. This is the virtue by which we do the right thing, even in the midst of hardship. {Click here to learn more about fortitude}

 

Temperance: “We should thank God for beer and burgundy by not drinking too much of them” – GK Chesteron

Throughout our lives, we will all have struggles against temptations for what we know to be detrimental to ourselves and others. Temperance is the virtue which counteracts these temptations. Temperance enables us to keep from doing what is wrong, even when we have strong feelings for it. In other words, temperance is what keeps us from sinning, even when we want to. {Click here to read more about temperance}

The Heart of an Evangelist

As a Catholic, we know that we were created to know God and to love and serve Him. Our greatest desire should be to give glory to God by helping Him in saving souls. Everything else is subordinate to this goal: even saving babies, and ending legal abortion. It could be argued that there will be no culture of life unless and until the world acknowledges Jesus Christ as its king.

But sadly, many pro-life activists, even Catholic ones, fail to realise this. For some, their work becomes all about numbers: numbers of babies saved. or numbers of attendees at conferences or marches. For others, their work resembles a bureaucracy, and they are caught up in an institutional mindset, which focuses on productivity and campaigns and programmes.

However, in his encyclical Novo Millenio Ineunte, Pope John Paul II tells us not to put our faith in campaigns and programmes, but that we are to put our faith Christ Himself:

“Conscious of the Risen Lord’s presence among us, we ask ourselves today the same question put to Peter in Jerusalem immediately after his Pentecost speech: “What must we do?” (Acts 2:37).

We put the question with trusting optimism, but without underestimating the problems we face. We are certainly not seduced by the naive expectation that, faced with the great challenges of our time, we shall find some magic formula. No, we shall not be saved by a formula but by a Person, and the assurance which he gives us: I am with you!

It is not therefore a matter of inventing a “new programme”. The programme already exists: it is the plan found in the Gospel and in the living Tradition, it is the same as ever. Ultimately, it has its centre in Christ himself, who is to be known, loved and imitated, so that in him we may live the life of the Trinity, and with him transform history until its fulfilment in the heavenly Jerusalem.

Saving Souls

When we have a firm belief that the basis of our work is saving souls, then we are equipped to begin activism. Along with our spiritual preparation and our training in the virtues, we are finally prepared to face the spiritual onslaught as we go out in search of those lost and wounded people who are in such great need of God’s love. The starting point for our relationships is the belief that every person is made in the image of God.

This belief in human dignity can sometimes only be a theory for us and not a lived reality. It must become more than a theory to us. We must begin to live out this fact and this is something that should be evident in our dealings with others.

Pope John Paul II said that ‘Every human person has a unique, exclusive, unrepeatable relationship with God himself.”

This means that the parents who are walking into the abortion facility to have their baby killed have a unique, exclusive, unrepeatable relationship with God himself. This means that the abortionist who has killed twenty babies today has a unique, exclusive, unrepeatable relationship with God himself. The same goes for the protester, the pro-abortion politician, the police-officer called to arrest us: they each have a unique, exclusive, unrepeatable relationship with God himself.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that we should hide our faith or hide the true nature of abortion. It doesn’t mean that we should pretend that abortion is acceptable or that our faith isn’t important. It doesn’t mean that we try to ‘find common ground’ by compromising with those who are diametrically opposed to a culture of life. It does mean that we should be prepared to accept people of good will where they are and try to forge a sincere relationship with them – no matter how fleeting that relationship might be.

Finally, we must keep foremost in our minds that it is God Himself Who called us into His vineyard for this work. We must never start to think that we are great people for becoming activists. Look at the words at the end of Pope Benedict XVI’s prayer for life:

 

Together with Mary, Your Mother, the great believer, in whose womb you took on our human nature, we wait to receive from You, our Only True Good and Savior, the strength to love and serve life, in anticipation of living forever in You, in communion with the Blessed Trinity.

 

Pope Benedict reminds us that God alone is the source of our desire to defend human life. This belief is the foundation of the true spirit of activism.

 

This article first appeared on The Freedoms Project

Author: genericmum

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