Lent has begun. That also means that a new 40 Days for Life campaign has launched – in this case, the biggest campaign in its history! For 40 days, pro-life activists in 354 communities in the United States and 24 other countries will keep a prayer vigil outside their local abortion facilities, in rain, sunshine, snow, sleet and hail. (Find your local prayer vigil here.)
The Incredible Results of 40 Days for Life
HLI is a huge supporter of 40 Days for Life, for all sorts of reasons. One of these reasons is that 40 Days for Life provides a straight-forward, but amazingly powerful way for ordinary pro-lifers who want to do more to get more intimately involved in the fight for life.
Committing to an hour of prayer outside an abortion facility might not seem like a big deal. But if there’s anything that 40 Days for Life proves, it’s that this simple act can lead to unbelievable results – starting with the 13,998 babies that have been saved from abortion thanks to these prayer campaigns! Then there’s the 170 abortion workers who have experienced conversions and left their jobs, and the 94 abortion centers that have closed after 40 Days for Life vigils outside their doors.
But I believe the good fruit of these campaigns goes way behind those already-impressive statistics. After all, 40 Days for Life has inspired tens of thousands of pro-life activists to step out of their comfort zone and dare to stare the ongoing, physical reality of abortion in the face. Nothing brings home the brutal reality of abortion like standing on a sidewalk watching as men and women walk into an abortion facility to have their precious children killed. This experience can be gut-wrenching, but it’s also exactly what many of us need to shake off our complacency and light a fire in our bellies for life.
I believe abortion will never end until every Christian man and woman of good will considers it a personal responsibility to do whatever is reasonably in their power to protect life. That’s because abortion is so deeply embedded in our culture, that we can’t expect a mere change of the laws, or the correct public relations “strategy” executed by large pro-life organizations to loosen its stranglehold. What we need above all is conversion of heart, on a societal scale. And unless Christians like you and me are out there, literally on the street corners, publicly witnessing to self-sacrificial love and the Gospel message, that will never happen. We can’t offload this responsibility onto others. We have to get involved.
By creating a worldwide, synchronized, and well-organized system of prayer vigils outside abortion facilities, 40 Days for Life has made it easy for pro-lifers to do exactly that. Which is why these campaigns keep growing, year after year after year. It’s impossible to gauge the positive global ripple effect of these campaigns.
Another reason I love 40 Days for Life is because these campaigns force us to keep our priorities straight. Especially in this day and age of frenetic activity and ubiquitous technical solutions to problems, it’s easy to fall prey to what Dom Chautard in The Soul of the Apostolate calls the “heresy in good works,” which he describes as “Feverish activity taking the place of God; grace ignored; human pride trying to thrust Jesus from His throne; supernatural life, the power of prayer, the economy of our redemption relegated, at least in practice, to the realm of pure theory.” This is a prevalent heresy, he says, “in this age of naturalism, when men judge, above all, by appearances, and act as though success were primarily a matter of skillful organization.”
In other words, even those of us who are deeply, daily involved in the pro-life cause still run the risk of undercutting our work by over-focusing our energies on temporal “solutions” to the problem. All the while, we neglect the far more important spiritual remedies, starting with our own personal conversion. 40 Days for Life, with its primary emphasis on prayer and fasting, is a powerful corrective to this tendency.
Recall Matthew, Chapter 17, which relates the story about the man whose son was possessed by a demon. When he brought his boy to Jesus’ disciples they were unable to cast out the demon. After Christ successfully heals the boy, his perplexed disciples ask him why they were not successful. Christ’s reply is painfully blunt: “Because of your unbelief.” And then he adds, “This kind is not cast out but by prayer and fasting.” (Matthew 17:19-21)
The most pernicious of the demons cannot be cast out without prayer and fasting. The spirit of abortion is one such demon. Abortion has possessed our culture, and despite so many valiant efforts these past 45 years, is still with is. Abortion never will be exorcised until we make use of the most powerful weapons at our disposal. Scripture does not beat around the bush about what these weapons are: Prayer and fasting. Prayer and fasting. Prayer and fasting.
Shall I say it again? Prayer and fasting.
The people of Nineveh repented by fasting and by putting on sackcloth and ashes. Moses fasted for 40 days on Mount Sinai, after which God entrusted to him the 10 Commandments. Christ began his public ministry by fasting for 40 days in the desert, and after His ascension the Apostles regularly fasted, as recorded in the Acts of the Apostles. “Even now,” says God in the book of Joel, “return to Me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.” (Joel 2:12)
I could go on and on.
Why is fasting so effective? Is it simply because it hurts? Well, in a way, yes. But not because God somehow takes pleasure in our suffering. Fasting is so powerful because, by denying ourselves the food and other comforts that dominate our thoughts on a daily basis, we shake loose the fetters of this world, and gain the freedom and clarity of sight to re-direct our attention to the transcendent, to God.
Most of us have no idea how much our hearts are inured to the supernatural by our myriad attachments to the things of this world. Many of these things are “harmless” in themselves, but to which we have unconsciously developed excessive attachments. Fasting prepares the way for grace by sweeping away the obstacles that stand in its way. Prayer, however, brings the fulfillment – allowing God to pour Himself into our hearts.
When we have thus swept away the obstacles to God’s grace by means of fasting, and when we have shaped ourselves into more perfect conduits of that grace by means of prayer, there is no telling what God may then use us to do: we become His instruments on earth.
By emphasizing prayer and fasting, 40 Days for Life is helping shape pro-life activists into such instruments. And these instruments, standing outside those abortion facilities, suffering the cold and rain and wind, and the abuses of passersby, are spiritual pipelines, pouring God’s loving and saving grace into communities around the world. This is how meaningful and truly lasting change comes about.
So, what are you waiting for? Go to 40DaysforLife.com, and look up your local vigil. Then sign up to spend at least an hour in silent prayer at least once this Lent. Also consider committing to fasting one day a week this Lent for the end of abortion. And if there isn’t any 40 Days for Life vigil in your area, why not consider starting one up yourself? Let’s not rest until we get a 40 Days for Life vigil outside every abortion clinic in the world, and until every one of those clinics is closed for good.