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Sam Sawyer, S.J.January 22, 2024
People carry a banner past U.S. Supreme Court building while participating in the 49th annual March for Life in Washington Jan. 21, 2022. (OSV News photo/Jim Bourg, Reuters)

A Reflection for the Day of Prayer for the Legal Protection of Unborn Children

Find today’s readings here.

On the liturgical calendar of the church in the United States, January 22 is distinguished as a day of prayer for the legal protection of unborn children. The date is set according to the day that Roe v. Wade was handed down by the Supreme Court in 1973.

I have written before about what it means to observe a “particular day of prayer and penance” in regard to the tragedy of abortion, and especially what conversations we may be called to as a part of that penance. And I have preached six years ago to protesters from Jesuit schools gathered together before the March for Life, albeit with different readings, about what it means to love our enemies in the abortion debate. And I wrote a Scripture reflection one year ago about the same Gospel, about how Jesus’ words about a kingdom divided against itself might apply to our tragic—and seemingly only deeper, even since last year—divisions over abortion.

So if any of those are what you need to hear today, please go ahead and read them. As I’ve reread those pieces, I could rewrite, or simply reprint, any of them today.

And honestly, realizing these pieces could run again with almost no changes is a source of sorrow and heartache. Even, maybe especially, with Roe v. Wade overturned, it feels like we are no closer to any deeper peace and justice in the United States’ long road toward recognizing the human dignity of unborn children, or offering support and care to women facing difficult or unplanned pregnancies, or helping families welcome children as a gift rather than struggle to provide for them. The hard, slow work of changing hearts and minds still lies before us.

So despite feeling like we are in the same place we’ve been a year ago, or two years ago, or ten years ago, here is where I draw some consolation from today’s readings. The responsorial psalm today asks us to echo, and share in, God’s promise to David: “My faithfulness and my mercy shall be with him.”

Faithfulness and mercy are the hallmarks by which God keeps his covenant with David, and with us. And they are also how we are called to accompany each other.

One of the liturgical options for the prayers today is the Mass for the preservation of peace and justice, and one of the available opening prayers runs as follows:

O God of peace, who are peace itself
and whom a spirit of discord cannot grasp,
nor a violent mind receive,
grant that those who are one in heart
may persevere in what is good
and that those in conflict
may forget evil and so be healed.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God, for ever and ever.

A spirit of discord cannot grasp God who is peace itself, nor a violent mind receive him. But faithfulness and mercy are how God approaches us—and how we can receive God and help others receive God as well.

May we respond to those with whom we are in conflict by striving to share instead in faithfulness; may we persevere in what is good and share the mercy that helps us to forget evil, and so be healed. May God make us one in heart by making our hearts, even slowly and haltingly, more like his own.

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