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January 22: Day of Prayer and Penance in the United States

By Jennifer Gregory Miller ( bio - articles - email ) | Jan 21, 2016 | In The Liturgical Year

January 22 marks the 43rd anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision by the Supreme Court legalizing abortion. Most of us know it as the day for the March for Life, when pro-lifers from all over the country converge to be a public witness for those innocent lives that have no voice.

Not everyone can attend the March for Life. And this year, with the beginnings of an historic snowstorm landing squarely on the Washington, D.C. area, many people have chosen to stay home for safety reasons.

But this day is not merely a day to decide whether or not to congregate in Washington. For Catholics in the United States, this day is part of our Liturgical Calendar, our liturgical life. This is "The Day Of Prayer For The Legal Protection Of Unborn Children". Although the title says "prayer" it is also a day of penance, as per #373 in the General Instructions on the Roman Missal (GIRM):

In all the Dioceses of the United States of America, January 22 (or January 23, when January 22 falls on a Sunday) shall be observed as a particular day of prayer for the full restoration of the legal guarantee of the right to life and of penance for violations to the dignity of the human person committed through acts of abortion. 

We are called today to observe January 22 as a day of penitence through acts of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Our hearts and actions should be turned to praying for the protection of life at all times, born and unborn, even with the distractions of the Mid-Atlantic region hunkering down for a blizzard. 

Our pastor pointed out this morning that one form of penance we can practice today is knowing how to give up our personal preferences, particularly as it pertains to the March for Life. So many families and young people had plans to attend the March today. Man doesn't plan a snowstorm; the weather is completely out of our control. Snow emergencies and bus cancelations were not part of the well-laid plans for the March! Rather, this snowstorm is part of God's providential plan. God gives us this chance to use our reason and exercise prudence. We have an opportunity to put aside our personal will and pray "not mine, but God's will be done." It can be difficult to sit at home in quiet, prayer, and obscurity when you want to be person of action and witness. Yes, no one can see us but God, but that might be the more powerful witness. We are making a different kind of sacrifice: giving up one's personal plans, all for the unborn. Attending the March is a big sacrifice, but today, as my family loves to quote my one sister, "We are making the sacrifice not making the sacrifice."

For our family, we will observe this day as a day of abstinence from meat because it already is a Friday (as per Canon 1251). We are also looking for other ways to make this a day of penance. We attended morning Mass, will be praying the rosary as a family, and we are delaying some of the "snow treats" we purchased. Another more difficult area we are working on especially today is speaking kindly to one another and going out of our way to practice charity to our family members. 

After all, being pro-life means respecting life in all aspects, starting with love and respect to our own family members. Making this special effort to practice charity to family should reap some immediate rewards, since we're going to have much "family togetherness" for the next few days due to the blizzard. 

43 years is a long time for this atrocity to continue. We must keep fighting through our prayer and penance. As Saint Pope John Paul II said in his encyclical Evangelium Vitae

A great prayer for life is urgently needed, a prayer which will rise up throughout the world. Through special initiatives and in daily prayer, may an impassioned plea rise to God, the Creator and lover of life, from every Christian community, from every group and association, from every family and from the heart of every believer (100).

Jennifer Gregory Miller is a wife, mother, homemaker, CGS catechist, and Montessori teacher. Specializing in living the liturgical year, or liturgical living, she is the primary developer of’s liturgical year section. See full bio.

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