Breaking the Cycle of Hate and Loss
It was a simple prayer request, submitted in the comment boxes during a live-streamed liturgy offered at Franciscan University of Steubenville, where I serve as president.
"Please pray for our new president, Joe Biden," the person wrote.
The Church always prays for our leaders. Good, bad, Democrat, Republican, Catholic, non-Catholic—we pray for them all in the Mass. This is nothing new. It shouldn’t be controversial. But within seconds, someone objected to the prayer request.
“I will never pray for that (unpublishable insult),” she wrote.
From there, her comment devolved even further.
I wish I could say her comment surprised me. But I can’t. I’ve seen too many comments like this in recent months. The vitriol on both sides of the political divide is at fever pitch. Tempers are running hot. And few people feel obligated to treat those who disagree with them with any semblance of charity.
This is wrong. It’s a problem. It’s problematic when anyone does it. But it’s particularly problematic when Christians who claim to be pro-life do it.
As Christians, we believe every person is made in the image of God. We believe all life is sacred, from the first moment of conception. We also believe God made us for himself—that his desire is for all of us to live forever with him in heaven. And we believe that God became man and died on a cross to make that possible.
Importantly, the sacrifice Jesus offered on Calvary—the sacrifice of his life—wasn’t a sacrifice made for a few righteous people. It was a sacrifice made for sinners. Which means it was a sacrifice made for all of us. For Republicans and Democrats. For those who call themselves pro-life and those who call themselves pro-choice. For those who stand outside of abortion clinics praying for the women going inside. And for the women not persuaded by their prayers, as well as the doctors, nurses, and staff working inside those clinics.
Our faith calls us to not just believe this truth with our minds, but to witness to it with our lives. As Jesus commanded us, we must love our enemies. Not tolerate them. Not belittle them. Not attack them. But love them.
Jesus also commanded us to pray for those who persecute us, to ask God to help them, bless them, and make his love apparent to them.
We cannot be a pro-life people unless we obey these commands. Our witness to the dignity of human life requires treating every single person as the image of God. It requires kindness and respect, even when those who disagree with us aren’t kind and respectful in return. Jesus died for those who nailed him to a cross. The least we can do is turn the other cheek when someone criticizes us online.
The pro-life movement is likely in for some difficult years. Those who control this country do not believe that unborn children have rights and dignity. Things may get much worse for the unborn before they get better.
Our response to these challenges, however, can’t be one of hate and vitriol. No matter what those who disagree with us say or do, our response must be one of love and peace and compassion. Hatred of men and women made in God’s image is always wrong. Even against those who hate us.
At Franciscan University, we strive to form a generation of young people who are truly pro-life—who are committed to loving the unborn, defending the unborn, and standing firm against laws and leaders who would deny the unborn the right to life.
We also strive to form young people committed to praying for those who disagree with them, who are firmly rooted in the truth, but also respectful in debate and charitable in disagreement—even in the midst of persecution.
This isn’t easy. Not for me. Not for anyone. But if we want to finally and forever right the injustices perpetrated by Roe v. Wade, this is what the future of the pro-life movement must look like. This is who Jesus calls us to be—people who don’t just call themselves pro-life, but who act pro-life, who act like every human person has dignity, every human person matters, and every human person is loved by the God who made them.
It’s not enough to be pro-life. We have to be pro-person. We have to show those who disagree with us that they are loved—by us and by Love himself. Unless we do that, nothing will change. The cycle of hate and loss will continue. And God knows, it’s already gone on long enough.
Father Dave Pivonka, TOR, is the seventh president of Franciscan University of Steubenville, a popular speaker and author, and co-host of the weekly podcast “They That Hope.”