MARLTON, New Jersey, December 23, 2008 (LifeSiteNews.com) – When I interviewed Joe Schiedler to discuss pro-abortion anarchists that had harassed his group of pro-lifer carolers at a Chicago Planned Parenthood, he described the usual stalwart response to such activity: the resignation, the quiet blocking-out as protesters stood inches before them to scream into their face. Obscenities flew and bullhorns blared, but the caroling next to an empty manger would not be stopped.
A few moments after we finished, I got a call back. This time, I could hear the frustration breaking through the veteran advocate’s voice.
“It’s hard because you’re trying to sing a nice melody – there’s just no common ground, really,” he said. “They don’t want to talk, they just start yelling right away. It’s amazing how effective they can be to get your blood boiling because they seem totally irrational. And they’re very anti religion, they make fun of your prayers and make fun of saints … they have a way of bringing immorality – dirty words and stuff like that – into holy situations.”
Having dipped my toes this year into daily pro-life work, I knew what he was talking about. His frustration summed up the sort of territory involved in reporting life and family issues. But as Advent draws to an end and we are soon to celebrate the birth of Christ, His luminous arrival throws into relief one of the many disparities fueling the clashing armies of the culture wars – the disparity of hope.
In his encyclical “Saved in Hope,” Pope Benedict XVI explained: “In some way we want life itself, true life, untouched even by death; yet at the same time we do not know the thing towards which we feel driven. We cannot stop reaching out for it, and yet we know that all we can experience or accomplish is not what we yearn for.
“This unknown ‘thing’ is the true ‘hope’ which drives us, and at the same time the fact that it is unknown is the cause of all forms of despair and also of all efforts, whether positive or destructive, directed towards worldly authenticity and human authenticity.”
I do not intend to suggest that everyone whom we find on the other side of the debate is lacking in Christian hope. But to the extent that we do find the line drawn in the sand between believers and non-believers on the question of life, and we know that some opponents – as in Scheidler’s case – habitually take to destruction rather than construction, one might suspect that some act less out of desire for a goal, and more out of a reaction to another’s.
And it is easier to destroy than to build. It is far easier, and more eye-catching, to inject chaos into something peaceful than to create peace amid chaos. Because such tactics have the natural advantage, pro-lifers who pursue the difficult work of raising the first shaky scaffold against the tide are easily frustrated.
But Pope Benedict’s words remind us that such destructive reactions are natural in response to the presence of the mysterious and persistent hope, a hope most universally proclaimed in the joy of Christmas. Some, looking askance at the unworldly promise, attempt to snatch the holiday cheer and leave behind the rest – as it is more difficult to understand or value. But in truth, the joy and the promise cannot be separated.
We can conclude because of this that Christmas, as the first harbinger of the promise, cannot essentially be constrained to December 25, or even the Christmas season. The trite and frequently cloying images we associate with the word “Christmas” – snow and sleigh bells, tree and trimmings, and so on – cannot do justice to the sheer, and even intimidating, vastness of Christmas. Even as it appears to us in the darkest days of the year, precisely its timing serves as a reminder to us that it cannot be restricted to one time or season. For all of our days on earth, at the very least in comparison to what has been promised, are indeed dark – and are indeed illuminated by the perpetually astonishing fact that God descended from heaven to keep us company during our exile.
Those who witness to the hope of life, like the Chicago carolers, witness also to that hidden vastness of joy – one that they know is also buried in the mere term “pro-life,” a word easily relegated onto the political activist shelf. But pro-life cannot be only this – that pro-life that inspires a group to sing of the overawing beauty of life around an empty manger in front of an abortion clinic, in a spirit of perpetual Advent.
There is evidently something about the immense promise that they wish to show to a world that is flying eagerly toward a more comfortable darkness, an easier destruction. So long as the possibility remains that someone might turn from his headlong flight to hear another breath of that ancient hymn, the carolers will continue singing.
O come, Thou Day-star, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.
To see slides of Chicago pro-life carolers see