This morning I joined our monthly pro-life prayer vigil outside our local NHS hospital, Stoke Mandeville. It takes place on the first Wednesday of the month between 12-1 pm. We hold up placards with “Have Mercy on the Unborn” and “Life is a Gift” in bold lettering; we also hold up pictures of a baby in the womb and after birth and one of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mother of the Unborn. We are not confrontational; we pray the Rosary, sing hymns and recite the pro-life Litany. It is very simple and very prayerful.
I am not a natural for this kind of thing. I cringe inwardly when people shout at us, as they occasionally do; in the winter it is often cold; a voice within starts whispering, “What is the use?” So why do I come? Well, at first because our former parish priest was keen on the idea and I did not want to let him down. Now he has retired but our small group (usually half a dozen, sometimes a few more or less) keeps going. We are in for the long haul, obviously. We would like others to join us of course, but console ourselves with the parable of the mustard seed.
Recently I read Jack Scarisbrick’s book about the LIFE organisation he founded: Let There Be Life (available from LIFE HQ in Leamington for £5). I have huge admiration for him; he began this arduous pro-life work in 1970 when he was professor of history at Warwick University, with the full departmental and administrative load that required. Further, to be a Catholic in the senior common room is one thing; to be a very active, public, pro-life, controversial Catholic, surrounded by the scepticism or cynicism of academic colleagues, is quite another.
Scarisbrick doesn’t mention any of this in his book; he is solely concerned with getting across the story of LIFE and its valuable work. I am simply guessing at the moral courage required, having glimpsed at senior common rooms from the outside – notably that of Christ Church in the days of Hugh Trevor-Roper, whose recent biography I read. Imagine the Oxford Regius Professor and mandarin, Trevor-Roper, and then think of his probable attitude towards a fellow historian, Jack Scarisbrick, with his extra-curricular pro-life activities, and you see what I mean.
One thing about Professor Scarisbrick’s book bothers me: I have the feeling that he is wary of pro-life demonstrations (if our prayer-vigil can be called a “demonstration”). He says, concerning picketing outside abortion clinics, that one should ask, “Why am I doing this?” and “What impact will it have on passers-by, clinic staff and their clients?” In answer to the first question: I think that along with supporting the main pro-life organisations, there is also a vital place for a visible presence on the streets – so why not me? In answer to the second question, God alone knows. We would like the impact to be positive, to make people think, to make them change. Sometimes we get cheers (from Muslim taxi drivers), sometimes we provoke anger. We stand there and pray; the rest is in the hands of God.