On Jan. 22, 1973, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled 7-2 in favor of the plaintiff in Case 410 U.S. 113, a decision better known as Roe v. Wade. In the blink of an eye, seven men (four with Harvard Law degrees) unleashed the abortion-on-demand scene which persists largely unabated in the United States even today.
In the intervening years, however, much has changed. Though the legal apparatus created by Roe does in fact stand, various efforts have succeeded at curtailing the number of abortions. Commonsense legislative efforts have been effective in making sure that children born alive would not subsequently be killed. Those who perform these so-called “safe, legal, and rare” procedures are now required in many states to get admitting privileges in hospitals (an effort which has garnered vehement reaction among some, while leading others to wonder how on earth they didn’t have them already).
Most of all, change has come outside of the eye of courts and state houses. The advance of ultrasound technology has brought home the fact of the human nature of the fetus. This has even led to the new phenomenon of the “gender reveal party,” which is nothing if not a very public, pro-life affirmation of the humanity of children before birth.
Thanks to good formation from many different sources, the pro-life movement is younger and more female than those seven “liberating” men could have imagined 45 years ago.
The cloud of abortion hung over the recent Brett Kavanagh confirmation proceedings and was certainly a major undercurrent of that melodrama. Some see Kavanaugh as the elusive “fifth vote” longed for by pro-lifers and dreaded by others. But whatever Justice Kavanagh’s opinions on a case that does not exist yet are, the reality is that the end of abortion in the United States will not come about with the kind of single moment of triumph which marked its legalization.
That’s not how redemption works. Evil is the master of the single, glamorous spectacle which “struts and frets his hour about the stage.” It’s the “Summer of Love,” the Crystallnacht, the murder of Romero. Evil – weighed down by its own existential nothingness – cannot but seek the flashy, dramatic, knee-buckling finality of a Roe v. Wade. Yet when we try to analyze it, we find all smoke and mirrors, textured air violently imposed without logic to refute or substance to attack.
The power of goodness lies in its humility. Rarely does goodness reveal itself in a great, dramatic gesture. So frequently, it is the quiet, the unassuming, even the powerless which shows its character. Simple, ordinary actions carried out day-in and day-out are what mark the good life. And if there are occasional public, shining moments, that is only because they are built on the foundation of consistent actions done far from the spotlight. A Thomas More unfaithful to prayer – let alone to his marriage – would not be able to persevere in his principled opposition to Henry VIII.
For this reason, anyone relaxing on a beach waiting for Kavanagh and team to undermine Roe in one fell-swoop is badly mistaken. That person would be mistaken not just on a legal level, but on a metaphysical one. The unraveling of evil takes place over a very long time. God does not simply apply a Band-Aid to evil. When it shows itself with the ferocity of 30 million abortions, it must be addressed completely. No part of the cultural rot that has led us to where we are can be left untouched by the light of Christ.
It is the same in the Church. The errors and failures which have become known as the sexual abuse crisis require the long, comprehensive healing of Christ. Those waiting for The Solution from the USCCB or the Vatican are going to be waiting a long time, not because there are not good people in those places, but because redemption is always much too slow for our impatient hearts. The solution to sin is not a policy or a memo. The solution to sin is conversion. That is why it takes so long. The problem is us.
This does not mean that the bishops of today should not be held accountable or that today’s politicians should be left to do what they like. But we must also not forget that every time evil has had its day – a seeming moment of triumph – powerful conversion has taken place in its wake.
I have no doubt that this time God has allowed evil to flash once again because he has great victories in mind. They are the victories of the confessional, of the adoration chapel, of faithful families, of persevering in one’s vocation.
We cannot “defeat” evil using its own tactics. That’s what the Sons of Zebedee wanted when they asked Jesus to cast down fire upon the unrepentant towns. But Jesus rebukes them. Not only can that not happen, but we err even by desiring such an outcome.
Evil’s finest hour on Calvary was – in fact – also its definitive and final defeat. We must believe this in order to be a Christian. And yet, while evil’s progress has continued seemingly unchallenged, the real triumph of the Redeemer is frustratingly hidden. Yet one need only ask Mary Magdalene in the garden to know that God has the last word of human history. For the last 2,000 years, Jesus has been calling the names of countless individuals as he called hers, inviting them to say yes to his triumph. Countless people of every nation – some with baggage as heavy as the Magdalene’s – have given their own “Rabboni!”
What a profound paradox: that the word’s iniquity and the Church’s unfaithfulness are the planes in which evil’s defeat is accomplished in our day. It is an action which takes place within us and without us, one which a new bishop or a new judge won’t change, except insofar as they respond to the grace of Christ, whose Risen Body, even now, is hidden in plain sight.
Father Eric J. Banecker is parochial vicar at St. Pius X Parish in Broomall.
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