By Fred Everett
SOUTH BEND — Almost nine years ago, I felt that the Lord was calling me to pray outside the South Bend abortion clinic on Friday mornings when abortions were being performed. The truth is that I really didn’t want to do it. In part, I remembered standing out there years earlier and how I felt so powerless as I watched the women enter to have their unborn children killed. I remembered how sad and angry I would feel afterward and I decided that it was spiritually not good for me to go.
Still, I felt that tugging at my heart. My wife, Lisa, and I were, after all, the family life and pro-life directors for the diocese. Shouldn’t someone from the Church be there to be that last word of encouragement or that last invitation to reconsider? Eventually, I just put it into my schedule and started showing up to pray. I had prepared a few things to say, such as inviting the women to go over to the Women’s Care Center that was next door at the time; but my main focus was just to be a friendly presence to pray for the women, the children and the staff of the clinic.
The first time I went there was just one man outside praying. He was from Elkhart and shared with me that he was often by himself there on those Friday mornings. He shared with me a story of why he kept coming back even after becoming dejected. He said that one day he was cold and wondering whether it was all worth it. He asked the Lord for a sign that he should stay. After a few minutes, he was ready to call it quits when a car drove by slowly and a person gave him a “thumbs up.” With that, he decided to stay around for a while and keep coming back.
The next week when I returned, there was no one there. As I prayed for the women who were entering, I did have a chance to say a few words, but I felt that they were doing little good. The snow was deep and it was cold and I thought that I had probably been out there long enough when I saw a car driving by slowly and I was getting a “thumbs up” from a stranger inside! So, I too decided to stay around for a while and I kept coming back on those Friday mornings when I was able to make it.
When I first started going out, I was often by myself — except for the fact that I had a deep sense of the Lord’s abiding presence. I got to know some of the staff and was even able to enter into a dialogue with one of the nurses there. After a few weeks, and almost never getting a response from the clients, I was shocked when one woman stopped in her tracks and stood staring at me after I had offered to help in any way I could. Usually, I only had a few seconds to say something between their getting out of their cars and entering the building. I had already run out of my usual material; but there she was, just staring at me. I invited her to come over where I was (since those doing sidewalk counseling are not permitted on the clinic property). She declined, but said that she would talk with me after her appointment.
When she came out, she seemed reluctant to talk with me; but after a little cajoling, she and her boyfriend met me over in the adjoining parking lot. I didn’t know what to say. So I prayed to the Holy Spirit for the words to give them and He answered me. After we were finished talking and praying together, this woman looked me in the eye, called me by name and told me to keep doing what I was doing. There were hugs and she and her boyfriend were gone.
I was never involved in a conversation like that one again. Still, in the months that followed, I found myself becoming more and more joyful. I came to realize that the reason I was going was not because of any apparent good that I was accomplishing. I was going for one reason only — because the Lord wanted me to be there. My joy came from having been faithful to this appointment of prayer, mercy and intercession.
I also realized that I was there only to do “my bit.” I wasn’t there to save anyone — that was and is the Lord’s job. I was and am but one of His many laborers. It’s His project, after all, not mine. As the soon to be canonized Mother Teresa of Calcutta put it, “We are not called to be successful; we are called to be faithful.” The credit for all the good that we might accomplish through God’s grace belongs only to Him. All we are called to do is to say “yes” to Him in whatever He may ask of us and for only as long as He may ask it.
After a couple of years, Lisa felt called to join me there on Friday mornings as well. About a year after that, I felt that the Lord was no longer calling me to be there weekly. Lisa, however, would continue to go regularly for years until, in fact, the abortion clinic closed down this past fall.
In this Year of Mercy, may each of us be open and faithful to our personal call from the Lord to proclaim, celebrate and serve the Gospel of Life!
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