“God, only your will.” It was early in the octave of Christmas, and over dinner, a Sister of Life — the order founded by the late Cardinal John J. O’Connor after visiting the Dachau Nazi concentration camp in Germany — shared that she has been saying this aspiration/plea/prayer more and more often throughout the day. What a relief it is that religious sisters have to remind themselves — sometimes have say these things out loud — and plead with the Lord often. While they have given their lives to the Lord — and have quite obvious outward reminders in their habits, in their convents — they also remain human beings with all the weaknesses they had before their consecration day. Consecration — and ordination — raises you to heaven in a new way, changes your identity in the Church, but doesn’t erase who you are. We can have an unrealistic view of holiness — both inside and outside convents and rectories. It’s important to remember we are in this journey to heaven together.
By morning Mass, it was the feast of the Holy Innocents, and a Franciscan Friar of the Renewal — the order founded by the late Father Benedict Groeschel and Father Andrew Apostoli — was celebrating. It’s a grim, haunting day. At Villa Maria Guadalupe in Stamford, Connecticut, the retreat house run by the Sisters of Life, most of the sisters had traveled down to Holy Innocents Church for an annual Mass and sober ritual: praying outside the closest abortion clinic (in an office building, otherwise easily blending in in the busyness of Manhattan), usually, and definitely this year, in the bitter (single-digit) cold.
In many ways, the Holy Innocents, like St. Stephen on the calendar the day before, remind us why Jesus came: to save us from this evil. Not to spare us from it, but to give the suffering meaning. To transform the suffering into eternal glory. It makes all the Christmas joy that people may have a hard time feeling seem — like holiness — more plausible, less foreign.
But what stood out especially at Mass that morning was an insight from the homily. A soft-spoken Franciscan friar said to mostly sisters who have devoted their lives to a charism of protecting innocent human life against a culture of death: Recognize the same evil that was in Herod’s heart in your own. “See how the same evil at work in Herod is at work in each one of us. Bring it to light. Confess it and be in true fellowship with the Trinity.” He was starting with himself in the reflection.
Here, too, a man devoted to radical poverty and service, who is frequently — as are his brothers — alongside the sisters at the prayers outside abortion clinics, the March for Life and so much of the front lines in works of love. These are the acts of love and mercy that definitely don’t make for news headlines, that are by their very nature hidden.
If anyone was in the position to give themselves a pat on the back on the feast of the Holy Innocents, it might be those who devote their lives to loving those mothers and fathers who suffer under the culture of death, unable to see the path to life and healing when abortion is part of the reality of their lives. But they know too much to do that — about evil, about the depths of suffering, about the need for reparation, about the continual need to do more, love more, sacrifice more, to do more penance and convert more.
We have a tendency to look out and condemn all we see wrong with the world. We might be angry or outraged or sad or despairing. But instead, if we looked within, continually, to more radically convert to the will of God, we might make more of a difference. Certainly, more than if we simply curse the darkness instead of being light. The prayer, “God, only your will,” will help.
Kathryn Jean Lopez is a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, editor-at-large of National Review, and co-author of “How to Defend the Faith Without Raising Your Voice” (OSV, $17.95).