The start of a new year is a time to look both backwards and forwards. In looking backwards, we review the past year from the bird’s eye perspective of the present, acknowledging and celebrating the accomplishments achieved, while ruthlessly cataloguing those areas where we fell short. In looking forward, we lay plans for the upcoming year and make the kinds of resolutions that maximize the likelihood that we will achieve our goals.
“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize?” writes St. Paul in the First Letter to the Corinthians. “Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.” (1 Cor. 9:24-25)
St. Paul knew well that great accomplishments are possible only when we maintain a laser-like focus on the task at hand, being willing to sacrifice present comforts for future glory. Mediocrity, on the other hand, is a consequence of getting distracted by the many trivialities that promise pleasure, but which inevitably lead only to deflation and disgust.
We in the pro-life and pro-family movements are in a race – a race to defend the lives of the most innocent, and to protect the institution that is the bedrock of society. At a higher level, we are in a race to preach the Gospel of Life: that is, the truth about the dignity of every human life, as viewed from its eternal destiny. In describing this Gospel of Life, Pope St. John Paul II wrote:
Man is called to a fullness of life which far exceeds the dimensions of his earthly existence, because it consists in sharing the very life of God. The loftiness of this supernatural vocation reveals the greatness and the inestimable value of human life even in its temporal phase. (Evangelium Vitae, no. 2)
As we start a new year, we who are called to preach this truth must be more honest than any about what we have or have not accomplished in the past year, more ambitious in making our plans for the future, and more disciplined in keeping the resolutions that ensure that we will do our part to build a Culture of Life.
All told, 2021 was a blockbuster year for the pro-life movement.
Earlier this year the Guttmacher Institute (formerly Planned Parenthood’s research arm) labeled 2021 the “worst year for abortion rights” since Roe v. Wade. In a report issued just days ago, the Institute notes that, “As of December 1, 106 abortion restrictions had been enacted in 19 states. This is the highest total in any year since abortion rights were affirmed by the US Supreme Court in 1973.”
What an incredible accomplishment! We should be immensely proud of ourselves, and of the tens of thousands of pro-life activists who worked and sacrificed so much to make this progress possible.
It is possible that some of the greatest strides of the past year were made at the Supreme Court, although it’s still too early to say for certain. But as I wrote a few weeks ago, it is entirely possible that 2022 will be the year that the regime of Roe v. Wade ends. During the Supreme Court hearings into Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization a few weeks ago, a majority of the justices seemed to signal their openness to striking down Roe. If this happens, then 2021/22 will be a watershed moment in the history of the pro-life movement, when the tide definitively turned towards a greater respect for life in this country.
Then, of course, there was the High Courts’ surprising attitude towards the Texas heartbeat abortion law, which bans nearly all abortions in Texas after the point when the heartbeat can be detected – about six weeks. As pro-abortion commentators have lamented, this works out to a near-total abortion ban, since many women do not even know that they are pregnant by that point.
Although the technicalities of the law, which uses an unusual enforcement mechanism, have caused some debate even within the pro-life movement, and may ultimately lead to its legal demise, no one disputes the fact that the law has saved thousands of lives to date, devastating the abortion industry in the Lone Star State. So far, the Supreme Court has allowed the law to stay in effect. Even if the law is ultimately struck down, its impact is resonating around the country, giving additional momentum to the pro-life cause, with pro-life legislators in many other states being inspired to implement similar laws.
Setbacks and Challenges
At the same time, there were some significant setbacks in 2021. Certainly, the greatest of these was the inauguration of President Biden, easily one of the most pro-abortion presidents in U.S. history. Throughout this past year, Biden has never wasted an opportunity to use his presidential authority to push abortion and a radical LGBT cause, or to undermine conscience rights and religious freedom.
Indeed, in the closing days of last year, the FDA under the Biden Administration pushed through a radical change, permanently allowing women to obtain abortion drugs through the mail.
Earlier in the year the FDA, like the health agencies in several other countries, temporarily allowed women to get abortion drugs through the mail, using the excuse that women needed greater access to abortion during the pandemic. Pro-life activists warned at the time that pro-abortion forces were cynically exploiting COVID to normalize an abortion method that is dangerous not only for countless unborn children, but also for their mothers. Those warnings have turned out to be prescient.
Mail-order abortion is perhaps the greatest threat to the pro-life cause right now. Pro-abortion activists have openly suggested that if Roe should fall, they will (illegally, if necessary) push abortion drugs, enabling women to bypass pro-life laws by aborting their children without medical supervision, using drugs obtained anonymously online, within the privacy of their own homes.
However, even here there is a silver lining. As the New York Times notes, “in 19 states, mostly in the South and the Midwest, telemedicine visits for medication abortion are banned.” In other words, Biden’s pro-abortion extremism is, once again, being stymied by proactive pro-life efforts at the state level.
Especially troubling to me, however, is the growing intensity of the assault on family values, especially in the form of gender ideology. Indeed, I sometimes worry that even as we make progress on one front (i.e., the fight against abortion), we are rapidly losing ground on another (i.e., the fight to protect the family).
The simple fact is that radical LGBT forces have been making rapid inroads over the past year, particularly on the issue of transgenderism. As but one example, it seems as if our airwaves are increasingly filled with content designed to normalize destructive and bizarre lifestyles. Much of this content is aimed at children. As a recent study published in the Daily Mail (which I will discuss in greater detail next week) found, children on the popular social media platform TikTok are being deluged with videos making so-called gender “transitioning” out to be a totally innocent, safe, and positive experience.
This propaganda is having a devastating real-world impact. Surveys conducted in the past year found that members of so-called Gen Z – the generation after Millennials – are significantly more likely to identify as LGBT than previous generations. One survey found that as many as one in six members (17%) of Gen Z identify as LGBT. A disturbing percentage identify as “transgender.”
One wonders: how will these huge shifts in mentality affect the shape of the world when members of Gen Z become our politicians, journalists, entertainers, etc.? One of my fears is that a radical cultural shift in beliefs about gender and sexuality will ultimately serve to erode even the progress being made on the life issues, since these issues are so intimately interconnected.
The Most Important Resolution
Faced with the enormity of the task to create a Culture of Life and Family, and the power of the anti-life and anti-family juggernaut arrayed against us, it might seem that any resolutions we might personally make for the new year can do but little to change things for the better. It seems to so many of us that we lack the status, power, wealth, or expertise to have any impact!
However, we must not be disheartened! As so many saints have emphasized, the creation of a Culture of Life begins not in the halls of power, but rather in our own hearts and homes, where we do indeed possess very great influence.
“If you want to bring happiness to the whole world, go home and love your family,” St. Teresa of Calcutta once said. And again, elsewhere, “It is easy to love the people far away. It is not always easy to love those close to us. Bring love into your home, for this is where our love for each other must start.”
Then there is St. Paul, with that most comforting of all passages in his letters: “That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Cor. 12:10)
Indeed, here is one crucial way in which the culture of death differs from the Culture of Life. Advocates of the culture of death tend to put all their energies into imposing a vast, global, top-down “plan” that they believe will somehow miraculously usher in utopia. Such a plan places little emphasis on the individual actions of individual humans, who are instead viewed merely as disposable cogs in the machinery of utopian politics.
This diabolically mistaken philosophy has the welcome effect of absolving these same individuals of any responsibility for their own actions: so long as they are advocating for the “right” plan, they can sow as much chaos in their personal lives as they like, pursuing a hedonistic life of greed and sensuality at the expense of others.
Advocates of the Culture of Life, however, understand that world peace begins with heart peace, and that this is why every attempt to create a “utopian” state through political power has devolved into murder and bloodshed. Because no “five-year plan,” however brilliant, can replace the universal call to individual holiness. In the end, the state of our world is simply the sum total of the decisions that individuals in this world make, of our virtues and our vices.
A single saint who, like St. Joseph, or the Blessed Mother, humbly says “yes” to God, changes the world more for the better than ten thousand activists who imagine themselves to be doing God a great favor by pursuing endless, exhausting activity motivated more by their own egoism than a selfless abandonment to God’s will and providence.
All of which is to say, if you make only one resolution this new year, resolve to do everything in your power to become a saint. Reprioritize everything in your life around this goal. Ask the Lord what He wants of you this year. Recommit yourself to a life of intense personal prayer. If you are a mother or a father, introduce a spirit of prayer into your household. Be present to your children. Love them. Teach them the dignity of human life by way of example. Bring them up to love Christ, to cherish life, to relish in simple truth and goodness, and to delight in the pursuit of virtue.
And lastly, consider regularly fasting and praying, particularly with the intention of inspiring those in positions of authority to take courage, and to do the right thing. As Pope St. John Paul II wrote in Evangelium Vitae:
Jesus himself has shown us by his own example that prayer and fasting are the first and most effective weapons against the forces of evil (cf. Mt 4:1-11). As he taught his disciples, some demons cannot be driven out except in this way (cf. Mk 9:29). Let us therefore discover anew the humility and the courage to pray and fast so that power from on high will break down the walls of lies and deceit: the walls which conceal from the sight of so many of our brothers and sisters the evil of practices and laws which are hostile to life. May this same power turn their hearts to resolutions and goals inspired by the civilization of life and love. (no. 100)
A house is only so good as the strength of each of its bricks. A body is only so healthy as each of its members. A Culture of Life is only possible when love for life and for the dignity of others is instantiated in every heart of every member in society. And that begins with us, today, at the start of this new year. May 2022 be the year when each of us begins to live as the saint that we are all called to be.