In the Gospel of St. Matthew there is Jesus’ parable of the merciful master and the merciless servant. The master holds one of his servants accountable for a debt owed to the master, and is ready to order the servant and his family sold into bondage, and all of his property sold as well, for payment of the indebtedness. But the servant falls to his knees and begs forgiveness of his debts from the master. “Moved with compassion the master of that servant let him go and forgave him the loan. When that same servant had left, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a much smaller amount. He seized him and started to choke him, demanding, ‘Pay back what you owe.’ Falling to his knees, his fellow servant begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’ But he refused. Instead, he had him put in prison until he paid back the debt. Mt 18: 27-30.”
On Friday morning a few months ago that parable was played out in front of me when a mother and her daughter came to a local abortuary. The daughter was in her early thirties, and the mother looked to be in her mid-sixties. The former had a sullen expression; the latter a face of great sadness.
They parked right in front of me and another pro life counselor. When they had exited their car, I offered them help, and asked them to talk to me about what they were going to do. The daughter remained silent, and began to walk very slowly across the parking lot toward the abortuary. The mother looked at me with tears coming down her face and said that she had come with her daughter that day, but wanted her to keep her child and was afraid for her daughter’s health if she went through with the abortion.
She came closer to us, the sadness in her eyes was deep and the pain was intense. She wept and said that she had tried with all of her strength to persuade her daughter to stop and spare the life of the child. She recounted how she had prayed that her daughter would change her mind. My colleague urged her to continue to be strong, and was encouraging her to keep trying to help her daughter, but as she spoke the woman’s daughter walked back to her. She cursed at her mother for talking to us, and slowly pulled the crying woman away from us, toward the front door of the abortuary.
Then, when the two of them were about thirty feet from the door, the mother moved in front of her daughter, grabbed her by the shoulders, and nose to nose with her, weeping, gently but intensely begged her to not kill her child. The daughter showed no emotion, and looked away.
At that moment the woman dropped to her knees on the concrete sidewalk, clasped her daughter’s hands in hers, and begged her with the sincerity that rose up from her breaking heart to not kill her grandchild, and to go home. She pledged her help in rearing the child.
Time virtually stood still, and that little area in front of the abortuary became a place where the culture of life met the culture of death head on, where the forces of evil that prowl the world seeking the ruin of souls made their assault on truth and life. My colleagues and I had dropped to our knees in prayer, and, engulfed in the cosmic drama unfolding before us, it was an earnest prayer that we prayed!
As the woman continued to plead with her child to turn back, the abortuary director came out, went up to the two women to separate daughter from grieving mother (and from the grace of God), and to lead the daughter inside.
The daughter left her mother, and went into the death chamber to kill her child. At that moment a sense of darkness and great sadness descended. Our instinct was to go and be close to the woman, but since she was on the abortuary’s private property none of us could go to her.
The woman finally got herself up, slowly walked over to the door of the abortuary, and went in to be with the one she loved, even in the face of that loved one’s willful rejection.
In the parable the merciful master hands the merciless servant over to the torturers until he paid his debt. The mother continued to offer love and mercy. But the torture of the daughter would come from within herself, from the inescapable truth that she killed her own flesh and blood.
Even if in somewhat modified form, Jesus’ parable had come to life that day.
The mother: How much like the merciful master. Her mercy brought her daughter to term, nourished her throughout her life, and now moved her to save her soul and the life of her child.
The daughter: How much like the merciless servant. Through a most sublime act of mercy the daughter had been given life itself by God through her mother, a mother who had fallen down on her worn knees to beg her daughter to save and protect the innocent human being in her womb. But, poised to bring new life into the world, the daughter had succumbed to the malignant sterility of abortion. She, like the merciless servant, “refused.” No mercy flowed from her parched soul.
Certainly, the failure of the human heart to show mercy is not uncommon at abortuaries. Abortion exists where mercy is shut out. The mission of those in pro life is to open what is shut, and to bring mercy to the place of death by witness, by prayer, and by counsel. And we must beg too.
It may have been more personal for the mother pleading with her daughter for the life of her grandchild, but those in the pro life apostolate, where killing and the death of innocent life is always so terribly close by, must plead for God’s grace and mercy to save the lives of the innocent unborn with the same sincerity. For while God’s mercy is forever, and His grace is abundant, they are gifts and not entitlements. Scripture tell us that we must ask God for them. As Fr. John Hardon, Servant of God, said: “Grace is precisely that which God does not owe us. That is why we correctly speak of begging. One who begs asks for that to which he has no right. That is grace!”
In short, those who labor for life must do so as beggars before the feet of the Lord. What we beg-our prayer-is that we be effective instruments of His mercy and grace by our witness to life and our charity to those who come before us at abortuaries, refusing to show mercy. Finally, as Fr. Hardon understood, in being instruments of mercy and grace for others, we are are instruments for our own salvation as well.
One final note. At the same abortuary a week after we had witnessed the life and death drama between the mother and her daughter, and had made our earnest prayer for the life of the daughter’s child, two of the many women who had come that day to kill their children took time to talk to us about the the reality and consequences of what they planned to do that morning, and they listened to our offer of spiritual, emotional, and financial assistance for them. Ultimately, those two mothers chose life, and each went to her home to await the birth of her child.