The Passion and death of Christ: An imprudent strategy

Guest commentary by Katie Walker

Tenebrae, the “Office of Darkness,” marks the beginning of the three holiest days of the Catholic year—three days to renew and relive Christ’s Passion and death. Tonight, I’ll join many of my fellow Washington, D.C.-based pro-lifers as we gather at the Dominican House of Studies for this Holy Week tradition.

Tenebrae is a funeral service marked by a gradual, encroaching darkening of the church. One by one, the candles are extinguished … the Light of the World snuffed out. In that disquieting blackness, the jarring strepitus clangs, bangs and shakes us to our bones. Like the convulsion of nature at the death of the God-man, the darkness and noise remind us of our own hearts, darkened by sin, chaotic with disordered passions. It reminds us of our country and culture crushed by secular godlessness, shaken by scandals and wounded from disunity. One feels like an orphan at that moment: Abandoned, fatherless and out of control.

Lent 2010 has been brutal for the pro-life movement. The past 40 days have seen the passage of the biggest abortion expansion since Roe v. Wade, vicious attacks on the Holy Father, scandals rocking the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and even more evidence of disunity among pro-life ranks.

Abandoned, fatherless and out of control.

Ancient pleading hymns will resonate against the stone walls of the House of Studies tonight. Dominican voices will chant Psalm 21 [Psalm 22 in some translations] in minor chords and, with David, cry out:

O God my God, look upon me: why hast thou forsaken me? Far from my salvation are the words of my sins. O my God, I shall cry by day, and thou wilt not hear: and by night, and it shall not be reputed as folly in me. But thou dwellest in the holy place, the praise of Israel. In thee have our fathers hoped: they have hoped, and thou hast delivered them.

They cried to thee, and they were saved: they trusted in thee, and were not confounded. But I am a worm, and no man: the reproach of men, and the outcast of the people. All they that saw me have laughed me to scorn: they have spoken with the lips, and wagged the head. He hoped in the Lord, let him deliver him: let him save him, seeing he delighteth in him. For thou art he that hast drawn me out of the womb: my hope from the breasts of my mother.

Listen, pro-lifers! Is that laughter and scorn of men keeping us from hope and trust in God? Is that seeming abandonment in the bleak realities of our world blacking out the faith that delivered our ancestors, our forebearers, our brothers in the fight against injustice across the ages?

We have heard again and again this Lent from both within and without the pro-life movement that human personhood—the goal of the pro-life movement—is beyond our grasp; that we are not ready, not able. That prudence dictates we wait out the evil that has claimed the lives of so many preborn children, so many disabled, weak, sick and elderly. That we should merely work to “reduce” injustice, not be foolish enough to try to end it outright.

Can anyone blame the pragmatists? The personhood movement runs contrary to so many worldly “realities” and, like a set stage, the world waits; watching. Like Pilate, our president washes his hands before the multitude of sins about to be committed. Like the Sanhedrin, our Supreme Court hears our cries and finds them wanting. And all the while, Planned Parenthood incites the crowd to chant, “Crucify Him, crucify Him!”  

And so there stands Innocence, condemned in the person of Christ.

Meant to impugn the personhood movement, the accusers say we are foolishly, imprudently looking to God to end the injustice of attacks on the lives of human beings. The response? From the blackness in the midst of this culture of death, from the clanging and banging of our bleeding world, yes, we are.

Tonight will be dark. It will be loud and chaotic. The last lights will be snuffed out until only one remains and, even that one, hidden. We will feel abandoned, fatherless and out of control.

When all is said and done, a church full of pro-lifers will march out of those Dominican doors sobered and silent, our hearts shaken by the darkness. In faith, we are comforted only by the knowledge that Christ will rise again victorious over the grave, victorious over the bleakest, most non-negotiable situation. He will choose the most imprudent (by worldly standards) course to conquer death—a cross.

Every year, the Church calls us again and again to this lesson: Inviting us to trust, inviting us to enter in with our lives, with our work, with the pro-life movement, the central Mystery of the Faith, that God-made-man has died and risen again.

In the tender compassion of our God, the dawn from on high shall break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace. (Luke 1:78)

Personhood NOW.


Katie Walker is American Life League’s director of communications.