Catholic Culture Podcasts
Catholic Culture Podcasts

Lost Opportunities

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Apr 21, 2009

This week I’m in Virginia, visiting family and friends, enjoying my own bit of Eastertide relaxation. In a friend’s cabin on the shore of the Shenandoah River, I’ve been renewing an old acquaintance with the histories of the Civil War-- in which so many memorable battles were fought nearby.

As I read about those battles, I am reminded anew about the tragedy of missed opportunities. Especially on the battlefields of Virginia, if the Union generals had seized the initiative when opportunities arose, they could have ended the war quickly on many different occasions. The ultimate result would have been the same--Union victory--but tens of thousands of lives could have been spared. But time and again it was General Lee, the underdog, who took action, while General McClellan and his successors, with clearly superior resources, chose to wait. As they waited, the opportunities slipped away.

Historical patterns repeat themselves, and today those of us who are caught up in the American ‘culture wars’ should also recognize the tragedy of lost opportunities. There was a time, not too long ago, when most Americans looked upon the Roe v. Wade decision as an outrageous aberration, which would soon be corrected. In the mid-1970s, if we could only have managed a vote in Congress on a constitutional amendment to end abortion, we might have carried the day. But the years passed, and the abortion lobby strengthened its hand, and today not even the pro-life candidates on our national political scene contemplate overturning Roe any time in the foreseeable future.

In the 1970s or 1980s, no serious politician would have dared to suggest government recognition of same-sex marriage. Now that cause, too, is well advanced, and in Vermont the fatal step was taken not by a few appointed justices but by the people’s elected representatives.

Once pro-family activists stated with confidence that the vast majority of Americans shared their views. Now we are not nearly so confident. The Moral Majority has sunk in desuetude. Could we still muster a simple majority vote to save marriage or to abolish abortion? Perhaps we could-- right now. Five or ten years from now, if present trends continue, it seems less likely.

Still we sit and wait, like McClellan and his powerful Army of the Potomac, waiting for just the right moment to launch our counter-offensive. But that ideal moment never arrives, and meanwhile the culture of death tightens its grip on our society.

Sooner or later we must put up a fight to save our culture. We can begin our campaign now, while we still hold some advantages. Or we can wait a bit longer, and allow our opponents to consolidate their fortifications, to seize even more of the higher ground.

The final result will be the same, I am confident. Eventually pro-life forces will triumph, sanity will be restored, American family life will flourish again. (The alternative result is too depressing to contemplate.) But the longer we wait, the more arduous the restoration will be. The longer we wait-- quite literally-- the more lives will be lost before that final victory. We and our children’s children cannot afford any more lost opportunities.


Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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