My 15-year-old spent much of last week holed up in a Washington, D.C., hotel with her Shanley High School classmates, hostage to “Storm Jonas,” possibly the fiercest blizzard to hit the East Coast this century.
Not far from there, stranded on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, other North Dakotans who’d left early from the annual March for Life pilgrimage at the Capitol where she’d just been were consuming tiny portions of Communion hosts at a makeshift snow altar, singing Matt Maher’s “Lord I Need You” like never before.
Though in a different world, I was with them all in spirit.
I’d been invited to Boise to hear a friend address the Idaho Right to Life at the Capitol there, just a day following the yearly march protesting Roe vs. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion, in Washington.
Our day had begun at Mass, where pro-life youths in red and white T-shirts and others filled the beautiful sanctuary of St. John’s Cathedral, marked by vibrant stained-glass windows and holy hymns.
Afterward, with my daughter in D.C. heavily on my mind, I and two friends joined the gathering crowd at Julia Davis Park to advance together toward the majestic state Capitol, the foothills behind it beckoning.
Rain predictions fading, the mildly chilly day was speckled with streaming pockets of sun as we strolled along the police-guarded streets of downtown Boise.
In my faith tradition, we talk of “offering it up.” Essentially, this equates to bringing meaning to our suffering and sacrifice by praying they’ll bless others. In this, no suffering is wasted. I found myself pondering whether my daughter’s sufferings in D.C. had paved the way for our blessings in Boise.
But even as I mused, a dark cloud appeared in the form of an angry young woman approaching our long line at an intersection.
“Whatever happened to ‘judge not?’ ” she asked. To make sure we’d heard, she asked again, “Whatever happened to ‘judge not?’ ”
Within the shuffling crowd, I misheard, hearing instead, “Whatever happened to Judge Non?” I wondered why I’d never heard of this judge before. My friend Ramona also misunderstood, but then whispered: “Oh, ‘judge not.’ ”
Initially, we chuckled at our error, but our faces quickly turned somber as we realized the young woman’s accusations toward our group.
It seems that no matter how close to God we may grow or how pure our intentions, in our quest to walk in faith, along the way we’ll be accused of judging.
The underlying imperative infused into the faith life is, in fact, to “judge not.” We cannot judge hearts; that’s up to God. And we had no intention of judging that dear woman’s heart.
Our concern emerged not because she’d convicted us, but because, through her words and demeanor, we understood she was convicting herself or others who’d harmed her. Our marching had triggered something painful deep within.
In my years committed to the pro-life cause, I have witnessed and likely participated in many failed attempts at perfect love. And though I’m sure some act with judgment, the vast majority of people in this ministry have good and giving hearts.
We see abortion as an injustice, however, toward the baby in the womb as well as the woman experiencing an unplanned pregnancy. So we commit ourselves to loving them both.
We also understand that if these scared women were not covered in hopelessness and despair, they would find abortion unfathomable.
We’ve learned from many who’ve experienced it that abortion brings a lifelong wound, and our broken hearts yearn to offer hope and help.
It is for this reason — to remind the world of this hope — that we dare to send our kids onto the path of an impending, monumental blizzard hundreds of miles from home. It is for this reason we pray at closer-to-home abortion facilities, which offer only false, pain-filled solutions. It is for this reason we gather with signs promoting a culture of life.
So, to the sweet child on the streets of Boise whose eyes met ours, know that we see you and hold no resentment toward your angry pronouncement. Your cry from the crowd ended up blessing us, for now we can hold you in prayer.
Know, too, that those who suffered the blizzard’s effects — who scooped up snow into empty bottles when water ran scarce, and shared food from scant reserves with others stuck for hours in the miles-long line, along with prayers and smiles — they were “offering it up,” all for you.
And if you’re still wondering about the Judging Woman, she doesn’t exist — she never did. Despite what you might perceive, here in our hearts, there is only love.
[For the sake of having a repository for my newspaper columns and articles, I reprint them here, with permission, a week after their run date. The preceding ran in The Forum newspaper on Jan. 30, 2016.]