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The Antidote for Pro-Life Depression

By Dr. Jeff Mirus ( bio - articles - email ) | May 06, 2009

If you’ve been following our discussion of how to make the pro-life movement more effective, it is possible that you’ve found it depressing. It may seem that nearly everything is wrong with how pro-lifers are operating. I’ve found this a little depressing myself, and I’m one of those doing the fingerpointing. Are things really so bad? What is the antidote for depression?

There are actually two antidotes. The first is to recognize how failure magnifies deficiencies. Much as I hate trivial sports analogies, there is an important lesson to be learned from losing teams: Every problem is considered severe when you’re losing. Put another way, it is often true that the main thing that is wrong with a losing team is simply that it is not winning. The team may not need to make great changes to become a winning team. It may simply need a few adjustments, a willingness to keep struggling, and a timely break or two. And when a team does start to win, well, all those things that were supposedly wrong with it simply aren’t important any more. Keeping this in mind during the hard times can help prevent self-assessment from becoming self-destruction.

The second antidote is even more powerful. It is to recognize that we are not called to victory in this or any other human enterprise. We are called only to fidelity.

The reality is is that we have no idea whether we can win this battle regardless of how good our strategic planning and execution are. In fact, there may be nothing at all we can do that will enable us to significantly curtail abortion in this culture and at this time. Just to take one of a host of unknowns, how the nation recovers, or fails to recover, from its current economic difficulties may have significant political and cultural repercussions, for good or ill, that we cannot even begin to channel or control. After all, the economic downturn played an important role in dashing pro-life hopes in the last national election. Who knows how things will swing in the future? Humanly speaking, the battle for life may prove to be completely unwinnable—or, to the contrary, it may prove to be easily winnable—in what we very stupidly like to call the “foreseeable” future.

This should not be depressing for the Christian, and I mention it only to emphasize the dangers of dissecting the Movement too much, of tearing ourselves apart by focusing too much on mistakes and shortcomings. For the Christian, what ultimately matters is purity of intention combined with a dogged willingness to bear witness to the Truth. Compared with Christ the King, all of us are mere privates in the ranks, with little or no grasp of the big picture. It is not our place to pass a final judgment on what is or is not possible, nor to be encouraged or discouraged by particular achievements or setbacks. Our role is to bear courageous witness—to love ever more completely—in season and out of season, and leave the rest to God.

In the end, frustrated as we may sometimes allow ourselves to become, there will always be as many personal battles to win as there are political battles to lose; as many real and unique persons to touch with grace and light as there are statistics and trends to accumulate into an ever-darkening storm; as many ways to be faithful to Our Lord and Savior as there are sins to offend Him. Just as Christ Himself was not called by the Father to achieve an earthly victory but to be obedient to the Father’s will, so are we called not to win but to be faithful as God is faithful.

Hope lies in fidelity. This is why we Christians have always had a greater taste for losing than pagans ever have for winning, a greater joy at the bottom than pagans can ever experience at the top. Suicide—whether political, intellectual, emotional or spiritual—is not the Christian way. If we go down in this battle, we will go down in unspeakable peace and happiness, singing a hymn of praise. For we know that things look dark only when the Enemy tries to convince us that we can never win, and to this we have our answer. For though the battle rages on and we cannot escape it, it is really a very odd sort of battle, a battle in a war that is already over. It is hardly surprising that Christians are so exceedingly hard to discourage, once you know what Christians know. 

Discussion in order:

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and See full bio.

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