With each passing year, I’ve become more and more a fan of silence. In silence, we can nourish and feed our souls. In silence, we can better hear the voice of God.
But silence in our age has become elusive, including on the sidewalk of our state’s only abortion facility. When I first began praying there, the din wasn’t such a problem. Most days, a lone escort would be there to help the women into the facility—rarely back out. As more life proponents showed up, the escort brigade grew too.
Back then, prayer was our most effective tool, as now. But our prayers are often muffled these days by the escorts’ shouts. “Don’t listen to her!” “Get out of the way!” “Quit blocking the sidewalk!” Most often, they are blocking us from reaching the women with resources.
I think of Cardinal Robert Sarah’s brilliant book, The Power of Silence: Against the Dictatorship of Noise. The noise that manifests on the sidewalk each week qualifies as such. The “dictatorship of noise” prevents us from sharing the truth.
Often the barrage begins as soon as the woman approaches. The escorts would have her believe we are the problem. In truth, most of us would prefer a quiet conversation and a shield of prayer.
As Sarah says, “Someone who is close to God becomes powerful; he can conquer the evil that corrodes the world, and he is capable of integrating it into his prayer of intercession.” We become closer to God through prayer and have seen its powerful effects. Prayer is always our best armor.
Further, he says that “silence and prayer are not a form of defection,” but rather, “the strongest weapons against evil.” He’s right.
That said, we have only minutes to share our hopeful news, and though we would wish for a quieter entry point—some peaceful oasis where we could gracefully offer what we know is true and good—we don’t usually have that opportunity. So, sometimes, to get through, we have to raise our voices a bit, to be heard at all.
Recently, Sarah’s words showed up in my “Magnificat” as a reflection—a refreshing balm. Just days before, my sidewalk comrade and I were approached early in our arrival by a post-abortive woman who launched into a 30-minute verbal tirade against us.
It happened to be the Feast Day of Mary of Magdala, a woman afflicted by demons, which Jesus cast out of Mary through his mercy. As this woman before us spewed her hate and accusations, the disquiet in her soul was palpable. One could see how easy it would be for a bad spirit to take up residence there.
Later that day, in the beautiful silence of the Adoration chapel, I prayed for her freedom. But earlier, out on the sidewalk, the interior confusion and wounds were so clear. When we realized a meaningful conversation would be impossible, I turned to my friend and asked if we could start a Divine Mercy Chaplet.
As we prayed, the woman seemed even more agitated, and began calling us names, saying we were mentally ill. It was alarming and shocking and sad. At one point, she accused us of “following” and “harassing” the women. If we were to stand by quietly and just pray, she could accept that, she said, but not our “abrasive” approach.
Later, I thought about the woman’s admonishment in light of what actually happens inside the abortion facility. What if the building were burning—after all, it is in a sense—and all we did was quietly whisper, “There’s a fire in there that will burn you. We’ll be out here praying,” or, if someone were on the ledge of the window threatening suicide, and all we offered was, “Hope it works out. We’ll pray for you.”?
Silence and prayer are certainly our best defenses against the Evil One’s ploy at this corner of our city. Some days, these are all we can offer, and they are enough. But other times, we must try to “talk someone off the ledge,” which might mean walking toward them to hand them resources and draw nearer, that they might meet the sincerity of our face, our eyes, our heart.
“Silence is not a form of passivity,” Sarah says. “By remaining silent, man can avoid a greater evil. It is not earthly dereliction of duty to place your trust in heaven…”
These are rich words to ponder and process as we discern when to quiet down and pray, and when the Lord is calling us to advance and sound the alarm to help save a soul.
[Note: I write about my experiences on the sidewalk Downtown Fargo on Wednesday, the day abortions happen at our state’s only abortion facility, for New Earth magazine — the official news publication of the Fargo Diocese. I hope you find “Sidewalk Stories” helpful in understanding the truth about abortion and how it plays out tragically each week here in Fargo, N.D. The preceding ran in New Earth’s September 2020 issue.]