There I was, my face pressed to the glass of the partition in the airport, straining to hear the announcement of Pope Francis yesterday, reveling in the excitement of the moment, when all of a sudden, I heard the following words being exchanged by my fellow Pope-watchers: “I’m Catholic and personally pro-life, but I’m not going to tell anyone else that what they do is right or wrong. Who am I to judge?”
PFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTT. That’s the air being let out of my virtual excitement balloon as those words were spoken. I won’t even share half of the other comments that were exchanged, because, to be honest, we’ve heard them all before, about the Catholic Church, about abortion, about contraception, and frankly, that’s all substance for another post soon. For now, I want to focus on the “personally pro-life statement BUT….” that most people have heard before, too. Yes, I’ve heard it more times than I can count, but this time, as we were watching such an important moment for the Catholic Church and for our world, to see who the Vicar of Christ would be, as my heart was bursting with love for the Cardinals and for the Church and most of all, Jesus, who is at the center of it all, my companion on-looker’s statement, as she had previously been expounding upon the beauty of her faith, the joy in visiting the Vatican, knocked the wind straight out of my sails. I hadn’t seen this one coming.
Trying to keep my eyes glued on the TV screen so that I wouldn’t miss the moment when the doors would open on the balcony, I turned my head towards the women who were exchanging barbs about the Church. I looked into the woman’s eyes who had made the “personally pro-life BUT” statement and tilted my head in an attempt to connect with her. “I survived my own biological mother’s abortion. What would you say or think about that?” It’s hard to write that full of the gentleness with which I said it, but please know that I did. I wasn’t looking for an argument, nor am I ever. I just wanted to know how her beliefs about being “personally pro-life” would then fit with what happened to me. CHIRP. CHIRP. CHIRP. CHIRP. That’s the sound of the crickets that must have been chirping as I looked into her face, waiting for an acknowledgement of the words that I had spoken, as I awaited her response.
I never got one. Not a word. Not an utterance. Not even a visible sign on her face that she had heard and understood the words that I had said. Maybe she thought that I was kidding. Maybe she couldn’t understand what I was talking about. Or maybe she had no idea what to say. I have this sneaking suspicion that it is the latter. We had been conversing before that for over a half an hour. She had heard me educate a fellow on-looker about the Catholic Church’s teachings about abortion and contraception, she talked to me about a documentary that I had been filmed for this week where I talked about how all of these things. When we had talked about the other issues, her eyes often met mine, there was a conversation taking place. And now? Now there was dead silence.
The mood very quickly shifted, even though she never responded to my statement. We now both watched the TV screen in silence. As the excitement mounted for the presentation of Pope Francis, the tension mounted, likewise. Although we were cordial with one another as we left the airport yesterday, I knew that my words had been heard, and I couldn’t help but wonder what she was thinking.
I know that I’m not alone in hearing statements like this, and I know I’m not alone in choosing to respond with words spoken in love. Although I could spend pages talking about how we can and should respond to statements like this, I’ll keep it brief. What I do want to do is provide you with encouragement and strength to respond, no matter how uncomfortable the situation, no matter how “off” the timing, to statements like “I’m personally pro-life BUT….” You never know the difference that your response to that person may make in their life. You never know the difference that your response will therefore make in other’s lives that that one person has contact with. You never know who else may have the great opportunity to have been listening into the conversation and be touched by it likewise. You just never know…..so instead, you have to DO. You have to SAY. You have to DO and SAY with LOVE.