Dark Devotional: The Firelight of Life

Hallelujah February 27, 2022

Shine like lights in the world by holding on to the word of life (Phil. 2:15-16).

Walking along the dark path through the campground, I kept looking for the next traffic light, hoping it would signal that I had found where my group had pitched their tents for the youth jamboree our church had sponsored. . But there were no more campfires, it was dark and the dirt road went deeper into the mountain forest.

I was ten years old and a few steps away from losing myself hopelessly in the woods. How did I end up wandering in the dark, looking for the light of the fire?

After the praise and worship program that night, I told myself to stay close to the adult chaperones, warned myself that it would be very easy to get lost. But I found myself separated from my group leaders in the huge crowd (huge in the eyes of a ten-year-old anyway) and the evening twilight. I knew there was a main “road” through the campgrounds, that other youth groups in our church denomination had set up campgrounds on either side of this road. So I found the road and started walking.

I wasn’t scared, at least not at first. I had taken this route earlier in the day. Our group had chosen to go rock climbing, but I was afraid of this and one of the adults took me back to our camp. We ended up taking a nature walk through the campgrounds and into the woods.

I knew my way, I told myself. I didn’t have to approach another group, admit I was lost, and ask for help. I would find my own way to our site and no one would know that I had ever disappeared.

But there were no more campfires, and I was beginning to doubt that there was another “right ahead”. I paused, looked around me. Then I swallowed. I recognized the landscape now, even in the dark. I was out beyond the campground boundaries and heading into the woods. The road I was using was almost gone. If I had walked for five more minutes, I might not have been able to find him without a flashlight.

I turned and retraced my steps, stopped at the first campfire I found and called for help. I was back at my own campsite a few minutes later. And, since it was the early 1980s, no one noticed that I was missing and ignored the fact that they had nearly lost one of their child campers one very cold night in the Southern California mountains.

I think about that night from time to time, and it became a sort of personal parable. The unplanned nature walk that introduced me to the camp layout – and it happened because I was suddenly hit with a panic attack at the thought of climbing rocks – left me learned that it is important to listen to children’s fears and welcome them. My foreknowledge that I could get lost, which had put me on alert from the moment the meeting broke out, helped me realize that I could trust my instincts (sometimes).

And even though I was stupid for not asking for help right away, I learned the importance of asking for help before it was too late.

Recently, I thought back to my childhood misadventure as I pondered what it means to be a pro-life Catholic.

I consider myself pro-life since my adolescence, long before I thought of becoming a Catholic. I grew up in the era of clinic sit-ins, which pro-lifers liked to call “rescues.” I myself have never witnessed any “rescue”, being too shy to join strangers without family support. (My parents leaned toward the conservatives but were politically apathetic and weren’t about to waste their weekends ferrying me to sit-ins and potentially getting me out of jail.) But I admired the lifeguards and I wrote defenses of the anti-abortion movement for high school English class homework.

After becoming a Catholic in the mid-1990s, my anti-abortion beliefs were reinforced by the Church’s position on abortion. I was delighted to find out later that I had first approached a local parish about the possibility of becoming a Catholic the very week that John Paul II promulgated Evangelium Vitae, his encyclical on the gospel of life. (Yes, in retrospect, that sounds superstitious, and maybe it was. I always like to think that it was my inner INFJ who appreciated that I made a “hidden connection” between my conversion and events in the Catholic world at large.)

Anyway, after becoming a professional Catholic apologist, I thought I had found my purpose as a pro-lifer. I’ve never been one to walk up to someone and try to tell them not to have an abortion. But I was glad to have the opportunity to explain the Church’s teaching on life issues to clients, hoping to help them gain the knowledge they would need to help women in crisis. pregnancy.

Over the past few years however, I have become increasingly discouraged about identifying as pro-life. Nowadays the word anti-abortion reminds me of conservative politicians and fundamentalist Catholics (and other Christians) who use their positions of power to force women into childbirth, even if it means forcing those women to die in the attempt. I remember the colleague who told me that he should have included more women writers in the anthology he had printed in honor of the fiftieth anniversary of Humanae Vitae.

And I remember how I lost so many friends, mentors and heroes when they threw away all the reservations they had about Donald Trump, becoming fanatical Red Hats in their determination to elect a man of failed businessman who openly bragged about assaulting women, simply because he claimed to have had a pro-life “conversion”.

Was that what it meant to be “pro-life”? If so, I wanted nothing to do with it. What if there was another way to be pro-life? What if being pro-life meant shining a light in the dark so that those who freely choose to reach out for help and comfort can find their way to safety?

It’s not easy to be a quiet place of refuge for people who can walk there. So much easier to shout from the side of the road, “Hey, over here!” We will help you! We love you and your baby! Of course, this implies that people who wander need help. Maybe they know what they’re doing and just want to be left alone. How much harder is it to believe that some of them can turn around and come back if they know they won’t be judged for wandering alone for a little longer.

People sometimes ask me how I can now call myself both “pro-life” and “pro-choice”. I see it as a strong defense of what I believe to be true about the dignity of the human person, while respecting each person’s free will to choose to do good as they understand it. If they need my opinion on the choices they make, they will ask me.

They can find me at the first campfire on the way back from the woods.

michelle arnold was a staff apologist for Catholic responses, a Catholic apologetic apostolate in the Diocese of San Diego, California, from 2003 to 2020, answering client questions about the Catholic faith by phone, letter, email, and online platforms. She has written essays for Catholic Answers online and print magazines and written four booklets for the Apostolate’s 20 Answers series. Its 20 answer booklets covered Judaism, New Age, Witchcraft and the Occult, and the Church’s liturgical year. Now a freelance writer, editor and proofreader, michelle arnold has a blog at Catholic Patheo channel. A wallet of his published essays is available on Authory.