Last Saturday I had the good fortune to participate in an event that was clearly a turning point in the history of the Spokane Catholic Diocese, and may quite possibly be part of a larger turn in contemporary American social consciousness. By this I mean a turn toward common sense, simple goodness, and the kind of sincere and undramatic piety that will lead to a restoration of Christian values among the general population of our city. This may be a grandiose prediction, but somehow I knew, as I trudged, soaking wet and snow-covered, back to my parking-ticketed car that it was not merely possible, but—given the inevitability of God’s grace—certain, that Christendom would take root and flourish in this town, this Inland Northwest region, and in due course, this whole country.
I am not normally given to such wildly optimistic musings. If I had to identify a defining meme for my existence in the last dozen years, it would probably be Tolkien’s observation that we should “not expect ‘history’ to be anything but a long defeat.” As a professor of ‘history,’ I have never considered my own abiding sense of temporal doom as particularly comforting—although it has been abundantly verifiable. How pleasant it was to have this sense of doom thoroughly destabilized last weekend.
The event was Walk for Life Northwest, which began with a Mass in the Spokane Cathedral; this was followed by a rally in Riverfront Park, and the demonstration ended with a short but conspicuous march through the slushy streets of downtown Spokane. Despite cold temperatures and an inhospitable mix of snow and rain flurries, the Walk for Life was one of the warmest gatherings of friends and strangers—around seven hundred people all told—that I have ever experienced.
Bishop Thomas Daly of Spokane, who presided over the liturgy, delivered a lucid homily on the topic of abortion that was as compassionate in its appeal as it was uncompromising in its doctrine. Opening his remarks with reference to a “pompous cleric” that he had heard speak some years ago—a cleric who had weighed in on a presidential campaign of the day by dismissing the pro-life candidate as “lacking in gravitas”—Bishop Daly methodically deconstructed the flimsy claims of the pro-abortion position while underscoring the necessary and absolute Catholic commitment to life. For those of us who have for so long heard the arguments against abortion (although they constitute the very essence of common sense) depicted as the ravings of hateful fools—it was medicinal to hear Bishop Daly assert, from his own throne in his holy diocese, the true and undeniable facts of the matter. I wish I had been taking notes, because his confidence, tone, and message were extraordinary, and some of the details of his superb homily have escaped my memory—no matter—he had me at “pompous cleric.”
The rally in the park featured a slate of speakers, all of whom were eloquent, inspirational, and moving in bearing their personal witness to the human tragedy of abortion. I should say that they were all also most gracious in streamlining their speeches to accommodate the participants who, while openly enthusiastic, were also turning into a regiment of wet, human popsicles.
The keynote speaker, Reverend Walter Hoye II, the dynamic Baptist minister and founder of the Issues 4Life Foundation, closed the rally with a poignant presentation of statistics on the more insidious demographic costs of the scourge of abortion. Referring to the ubiquitous presence of abortion clinics in African-American neighborhoods, to say nothing of the shockingly high incidences of abortions among black women, Rev. Hoye reminded us that the practice of abortion was now contributing to the eradication the African-American community. The only thing more eerie and tragic than the verifiable reality of this phenomenon itself is that the “pro-choice” sector of our nation (which generally overlaps with the community of self-styled champions of diversity) seems so persistently unwilling to acknowledge it.
After a week, I’m still processing the event, although friends, students, and fellow parishioners who were also there share my sense of admiration for the event’s organizers, and gratitude to Bishop Daly for making such a personal commitment to its execution. The relentless stream of power-grubbing, pandering, opportunism, and trivial corruption that passes for leadership in our world, whether it be in political, corporate, or religious life, has left us—well, left me anyway—more or less convinced that our demise as a free and intelligent society is already well underway. More “sophisticated” Catholics than I are somewhat giddy lately—even to the point of papal flag-waving—about the Church’s determination to reverse global warming, if such a thing is actually happening. I don’t know for sure one way or another, and neither does anybody else for that matter. I do find it interesting that the sophisticates are convinced that we can and will alter the forces of nature through effective political action, but dare not suppose that we can or even should bring an end to abortion by any means that could conceivably intrude upon anybody’s dubiously constructed freedom of choice.
It was doubly gratifying to stand among so many simple people like myself, numb with cold, feeling for the first time in a good while that in addition to a faithful and spirited group of citizens who will, with God’s grace, bring about a life-giving transformation to our civilization, we have a courageous and concerned bishop who values the substance of life over the style of political expediency. It would seem that we are slowly waking up—and it may be that we will only fully wake up in time to plunge headlong into a determining battle of some sort. That’s fine—our victory is assured. Thank you Bishop Daly, and thank you Walk for Life Northwest.
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