We came across this reflection paper from a former student. It was written several years ago, but in our experience remains true in this time of diminishing expectations:
Who do you say that I am?
The small man in the yellow t-shirt looks at me appraisingly for a moment, and then offers me his umbrella. I don’t really want to take it – while the day is gray and thickly humid, there’s only a fine, warm drizzle coming down. But refusing his generosity would only attract more attention from the little group in front of the abortion clinic, and it seems I’m already quite conspicuous enough. So I smile and take his umbrella, and together we pray the rosary in the rain.
Soon, the shower becomes a storm and the wind kicks up. We keep praying – five decades, ten. The wind shakes our umbrellas from side to side, and each gust drenches our neighbors with water. Fifteen decades, twenty. Prayer to St. Michael the Archangel, the Memorare, and we’re done. I turn to give Yellow T-shirt his umbrella, and see the group gathering around me. They introduce themselves – six men, a woman, and not one of them under 60. No wonder I’m so conspicuous.
They ask me where I’m from, and what I’m doing out here on a morning like this. The first question is natural enough, but the second, as always, gets me riled. But instead of explaining that my presence is no stranger than their own, I smile and shrug. “I pray at an abortion clinic every Saturday during the school-year, too. There are some things that are worth getting up for.” They nod, a little surprised by even that much, and I give Yellow T-shirt his umbrella. He tells me it’s a treat to see a young person praying at the clinic, and my frustration rises. I ask if other young people ever come here. He pauses – “You mean, to the clinic?” “Yes,” I answer. “To pray the rosary?” “Yes.” “No. Oh, no – of course not.”
“Of course not?” Does that mean “Of course not – young people don’t come, and they can’t pray the rosary,” or “Of course not, young people don’t come, and they won’t pray the rosary?” Because if they can’t pray the rosary, isn’t that because someone hasn’t bothered to teach them how? And if they won’t pray the rosary, couldn’t it be that someone taught them how, but didn’t teach them why? And wouldn’t unfamiliarity with faith and prayer explain why young people don’t come to the clinic?
Yellow T-shirt may have been surprised when I asked whether young people came to the clinic – but how much more astonished would he have been if I had asked what he has to do with their absence.
Who? My Generation. The Kids Are Alright.
Older Catholics have heard of the statistics reporting that 18-26 year-olds are more religious and conservative than their parents’ generation. But somehow they just don’t seem to expect to see evidence for this in their own hometowns. But why don’t they look for young people from their own families, neighborhoods, and churches to be outside the local abortion clinic on Saturday morning?
The reason seems to be that, while they are used to acting on their own convictions, they are not used to seeing them shared by my generation. This is more than a little strange, though, seeing as their generation taught and mentored my own. Of course it’s a fact that a teacher must expect to have his teaching rejected, ignored, or distorted. But it’s also a fact that no honest teacher teaches as truth what he knows to be false or negotiable. So why are those who teach and witness to the gospel of life surprised when young people embrace it too?
[Some of us] wait in joyful hope for the coming…
Maybe this explains why, when I come to the clinic, I find it so hard to watch the surprised reaction of other pro-lifers. To my mind, I’m just doing what I’m supposed to do. I don’t think my generation should be greeted with incredulity, but with the joy of fulfilled expectation. After all, if you believe abortion kills babies, victimizes women, and destroys families, why be surprised when a generation that has grown up with the effects of legal abortion comes to pray?
I would love to be greeted by my fellow pro-lifers with the words “We’ve been expecting you.” But I grow more and more convinced that they don’t expect me. They don’t expect me, just as they don’t expect their own children –“Young people? Come here? To pray the rosary?” Oftentimes they don’t even think they’re supposed to have such expectations.
After all, adolescence is the time of rebellion and self-discovery. Teenagers are constantly challenging authority and the system in order to find themselves. This is why we don’t expect them to have the time or inclination to come out to abortion clinics, or to pray the rosary. After all, these activities don’t have much to do with the teenage world of “self.” Or do they?
As pro-life Catholics, we should say they do. We should remember that what makes self-discovery real and meaningful is the discovery of something outside of self; something greater than I. Cradle Catholics talk of that time of life “when you choose to make your parents’ belief your own.” Those who have experienced it know this to be a description of real self-discovery.
This was the time when you discovered not only who you have been raised to be, but who you would become, if you kept the Faith for your own. You came to understand the convictions an adult Catholic must have. You saw the conviction of an adult Catholic would require you to live and die for your Faith. And at this you understood the greatness of man, that Christ would consider him capable of dying for conviction. You saw the value of reason that puts men above animals and makes us capable of heroism. And for a moment, perhaps, you had a glorified vision of humanity as heroic and supreme – until suddenly you also saw the littleness of man. You saw that if one man would die for love of Truth, another must hate that Truth enough to kill him. Then you realized all that distinguishes these men is grace, and you saw your unworthiness. And it was then that you discovered your self.
Or at least, that’s how it happened with me. I discovered my convictions, and I discovered that I was most truly myself when my actions supported those convictions. If we believe that action is the natural fruit of conviction, it shouldn’t be a surprise when young people act. We shouldn’t be surprised when, rosaries in hand, young pro-lifers come to the abortion clinic to pray.
Photo “Rosary” courtesy of Fr. Lawrence Lew, O.P.