The feast of the Visitation, which we are about to celebrate May 31, has been one of the great Catholic feasts for the last 800 years. I think it should become a great Catholic pro-life feast as well.
One might ask why Catholics need a pro-life feast day. In this country, the pro-life movement marks its calendar every Jan. 22, the anniversary of the 1973 Supreme Court decision known as Roe v. Wade, which led to abortion-on-demand.
While the pro-life movement preceded that ruling — with abortion legal in New York and California — it was that court decision that gave it real momentum. What looked like the definitive triumph of those who wanted to legalize abortion instead spawned one of the great social-justice movements of the last 50 years.
Now that may sound like an exaggerated claim, but one must remember that this movement sprang up with almost no institutional support of any kind save from the Catholic Church. Today, a majority of Americans — including young people — tell pollsters they consider themselves “pro-life.”
Politically, we have made significant incremental progress. While the body count of aborted children still tallies in the millions annually, successes have been significant, and a cultural tide is slowly shifting. It has been a strength of the pro-life movement that it has sought to be prayerful in its presence and consistent in its actions. Quiet, prayerful witness has a tremendous power, as Abby Johnson, an ex-abortion clinic operator who converted, has described in her book “Unplanned.” There is much outreach to mothers-to-be in need of support, such as the Women’s Care Centers that began in South Bend, Ind. There are also long-standing efforts to help women who have to live with the guilt of their own abortions, such as Project Rachel.
Much of this success also comes from the fact that extremism, by and large, has been avoided. This is not to say that extremism is not a constant temptation. Purists who will brook no compromise — who consign all those who disagree with them to hell, or who seek to conjoin opposition to abortion with partisan political agendas like opposition to immigration — do more damage these days than the weak counterthrusts of abortion supporters.
Which is why a spiritual feast day could be so potent. Here in Huntington, Ind., parish priests and Secular Franciscans, including one of our own editors here at Our Sunday Visitor, have been waging a campaign to make the feast of the Visitation a pro-life feast day, citing Luke 1:44, with the babe leaping in Elizabeth’s womb at the approach of the pregnant Mary. The unborn John was the first person to recognize the Savior.
What makes this feast so attractive is that it focuses on women, the mothers-to-be. In the iconic embrace of Mary and Elizabeth, expectant mothers reaching out in mutual assistance, we are reminded that there are always two lives, two souls at stake: mother and child.
The Visitation is also the occasion for Mary’s great prayer, the Magnificat. This prayer is treasured by a wide variety of Catholics because it is an eloquent articulation of the Catholic belief in the dignity of all people and the Gospel injunction to help the weakest among us, uniting the pro-life and social-justice wings of our sometimes divided Church.
This May 31, pray for all women who are struggling with pregnancies. Pray that God gives them strength to protect the life they bear in their wombs. And while you are at it, make a donation to an aid organization that provides assistance to unwed mothers.
If you’d like a feast of the Visitation prayer card, send me a SASE and I’ll send you one for free, while supplies last.
Greg Erlandson is OSV president and publisher.