Throughout the year I often find myself in a meeting sitting across the desk or a lunch table from someone who is a stranger. In the small talk that ensues usually the question comes to me of whether I have children or not. One typical response will be: “I have two wonderful children and a third one” This usually elicits some laughter from the other person and more importantly breaks the ice so that more important matters can be discussed. Of course, my one liner is a complete lie. I adore all my children for a multitude of reasons depending on which child I am discussing.
This past Saturday, those reasons were brought into sharper focus for me as I prayerfully protested in front of the Planned Parenthood building in downtown Toledo. As we arrive, our organizer is speaking to the crowd. We settle in. We stand on the edge of the sidewalk trying to keep off the grass which is Planned Parenthood property. I am standing next to my six year old son, Henry. My wife and one of my daughters stand behind us. Henry struggles to stay on the sidewalk. After the speaker ends, we receive a blessing from the priest and then are requested to pray in silence for ten minutes. My immediate thought is one of abject fear. TEN Minutes of Silence! There is no way Henry will make it through ten minutes of silence. In one instant I have the choice stay or remove Henry from the situation. Being the eternal optimist, I think “Well, maybe we can make it through. Let’s try”. We stay.
“Henry, we have to be quiet for 10 minutes. No talking –just praying” I whisper.
One minute. Two minutes.
“Dad, what are we praying for?” … not whispering
“We are praying for all the unborn babies” I whisper.
“Dad, my knees hurt on the sidewalk, can I put them in the grass?”
At this point we can hear someone behind praying the glorious mysteries of the rosary. I whisper to Henry to follow along on his rosary. He ignores my suggestion.
“Dad, the grass is scratching my knees”. It is time to move.
Henry and I retreat across the side street to a patch of grass about 30 feet away from the gathering. Certainly far enough away that a six year old voice won’t disturb anyone mostly because of passing traffic.
We start over.
“Henry, let’s pray the rosary together.” I say. I am relieved that I no longer need to whisper or have to be self-conscious about how loud he is. We work our way through the beginning of the rosary and then choose the sorrowful mysteries. He announces the first mystery.
“The agony in the garden.”
I meditate on the mystery as Henry leads this decade. I think of the anguish Jesus must have experienced in Gethsemane. My mind drifts. I think of the woman who chose abortions. Did they experience as much anguish in making the decision to abort their baby? Are they haunted by that decision? I pray for their peace. I think of my own wife. I think of the joy we experience at the knowledge we were pregnant each time. I think of how honored we felt that God had called us to be stewards of his gift to us.
“The scourging at the pillar.” Henry announces. He leads. I follow and my mind wanders again. The pain and the blood. I wince at the thought of the recent videos*. I shake my head in disbelief. I cannot fathom the pain during a partial birth abortion. I feel sick. I pray for the medical community for a change of heart in preforming these procedures.
“Dad, I’m done. My tummy hurts.” Henry says. I tell him to lay his head in my lap. He closes his eyes and I block the sun from his face with my body. He continues to announce the mysteries but just listens as I pray the prayers.
“The crowning of thorns” I start thinking of my own children. First, my oldest… newly Confirmed and starting high school. I connect her love of service with crown of thorns through Christ’s kingly office. For the most part, she has led primarily a sheltered existence but now her world will start expanding. As she continues to mature she will begin to see the world through a different lens and, knowing her, will feel called to minister to many different people. I pray for her to continue to listen to that call.
“The carrying of the cross” Oh… my middle child. My twelve year old is the classic textbook version of a middle child. She carries the burden of a number of crosses many of which she has fashioned for herself. I am unable to think of a good oxymoron which best describes her but I guess I would consider her “bipolar”. She is “bipolar” in the sense that her pendulum swings between self-absorption (reasonable for any 12 year old) and a deep empathy for others. That gift allows her to understand the feelings and identify the needs of individuals. As I watch her from across the street, I know she is keenly aware of everything that is taking place. I pray for patience for me and her mother to understand that the self-absorption is only a phase – and that, if it is God’s will, the empathy is not a phase.
“The crucifixion,” Henry announces. Finally, my brain is all at once flooded with thoughts as I turn to look at my son, Henry. In a strange way we look like an odd version of a pieta with Henry’s legs splayed in the grass and me cradling his head in my lap. I think of how Mary must have felt when she is handed her Son from the cross. The juxtaposition of thoughts of Mary’s Son and my son. How beautiful Henry is! How perfect! How could I be so worthy that God should give Henry to us? Or my girls? Or, for that matter, my wife? This boy in my arms is so full of life, God’s grace and the promise of a future. Unfortunately, for the 58 million children who were aborted, there was no promise of a future – only unfulfilled potential.
We finish our closing prayers. The crowd is leaving and the rest of my family is joining us. Our prayer is done for now. I feel extremely blessed, in fact, to have been pulled away and to have shared that prayer experience with Henry. While I lament those lives that have been lost, I cannot help but feel grateful to have had the time to reflect and pray about my vocation as a father.
“Author’s Note: Recently a series of undercover videos released by The Center for Medical Progress indicates that Planned Parenthood was selling fetal body parts. Those videos may be seen here: CLICK HERE