Bishop's Column

Task of Pro-life Discipleship is a Marathon, not a Sprint

We know that it takes perseverance and effort to live as a disciple of Jesus Christ. Saint Paul compared our life in Christ to an athletic competition, a "race" requiring us to train and stay in shape. The training the Christian life requires is spiritual rather than physical, but the efforts involved are no less strenuous. We cannot afford to grow discouraged, even when progress is slow and the goal seems far off and distant.

Paul urged the Christians in Corinth to "run so as to win," following his example: "I drive my body and train it, for fear that, after having preached to others, I myself should be disqualified." The apostle’s mission was more demanding than any Olympic event, but God gave him strength to push on. Before his death, Paul could declare: "I have finished the race, I have kept the faith."

Later on this month, America marks the 40th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision, which legalized abortion throughout all nine months of pregnancy. Ever since Jan. 22, 1973, Catholics have led the pack in our efforts to end this injustice and build a life-affirming culture. But every committed pro-life activist knows that this struggle requires patient endurance: it is a 26-mile marathon, not a 100-yard dash. So we must train accordingly, developing spiritual stamina and inner strength.

Running is a favorite pastime of mine, and it has helped me understand St. Paul’s view of discipleship. God enables us to do seemingly "impossible" things, but he generally doesn’t give us that ability overnight. Usually we must start small, making gradual progress. Having made it to the end of several marathons, I know that they require months of intense and dedicated training.

That is the same approach we should take toward pro-life activism, to avoid getting discouraged by apparent setbacks and gradual progress.

In reality, the cause of life is not losing, but gaining strength – especially among young people. But fatigue and disappointment can creep in, if we expect to make progress faster than God will allow. Instant results are not the norm, either on the running track or in the struggle against abortion.

St. Paul’s athletic analogy applies well to our efforts for the Gospel of Life. To outrun our opponents, we’ll have to train hard, putting in the necessary hours, day-in and day-out. Like athletes preparing for the race, we should seek out veteran competitors and learn from them. And of course, we want good training partners – enthusiastic allies who can help us maintain momentum over the long haul.

That kind of team effort is helpful for runners in training. But it’s even more important for Catholics who want to change the culture. Individuals can make a difference, but in the long run it is critical for us to band together and organize larger initiatives.

After all, a Culture of Life is not just a set of individuals who hold pro-life beliefs. It is something much bigger – a way of living together in accordance with the truth. That vision requires both individual and group efforts.

As a starting point, it’s important for all Catholics to believe what the Church teaches about the dignity of life – but that should be the beginning, not the end, of our pro-life formation. We can’t stop there, and still expect to outrun the competition.

In an age of religious skepticism and moral relativism, we should be able to show how logic and science also support the pro-life position. We need to anticipate opposing arguments and learn to respond in ways the secular world can understand.

Catholics should deepen their understanding of the Natural Law, the moral code accessible to all people through reason. By taking this approach, we can explain the principles of human dignity and refute the charge of trying to "impose religion" on the public.

Still, even with the best intellectual and spiritual tools, the work of dialogue and persuasion will be demanding. We’ll only complete this "marathon" if we put in the time and effort to train for it.

This kind of training is what my brother bishops and I hope to provide through the Nebraska Catholics for Life initiative, which I urge you to join by visiting http://www.nebcathcon.org/ncl.htm.

Members of Nebraska Catholics for Life receive in-depth educational materials on a range of ethical issues, including euthanasia and embryonic stem-cell research, as well as abortion. They also stay informed on activities to further the pro-life cause in the public square.

I hope you will join us in building a network of Catholics who can offer truth and charity in a time of moral confusion.

If we commit to training together, I believe we can fulfill the words of the Prophet Isaiah, describing those who place their hope in God: "They shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint."

Welcome Bishop James D. Conley by leaving a message in the guestbook. The link is on the home page.

Bishop Conley

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