By Mike Mastromatteo
It would be unusual to find Joseph-Paul Flanagan taking part in high profile demonstrations in defense of unborn children. It’s not that the resident of Iberville, Quebec is indifferent to the unborn, nor is he opposed to the tactics of sidewalk counselors and activists on the front lines. Instead, this quietly committed pro-lifer brings a prayerful, contemplative approach to the struggle.
A retired professor of mathematics at the College Militaire Royal de St. Jean, Flanagan has long supportive pro-life efforts in Quebec. Only since the death of his wife Marielle two years ago, did his commitment take on the prayerful element of today.
Flanagan spoke to The Interim in Toronto while attending the recent Panamerican Conference on Family and Education.
“I believed in the pro-life cause for a long time, but I never had much involvement before,” said Flanagan. “But since the death of my wife, I have offered private prayer intentions to God for the aims of the pro-life effort.”
The loss of his wife helped Flanagan come to a new understanding of the meaning of suffering in human affairs. He has used that understanding not only to deal with grief but to find happiness in simplicity and solitude.
Today, Flanagan follows something of a reclusive lifestyle. A typical day includes ample time for private meditation and prayer. Flanagan admits his “hermit” approach to pro-life work isn’t likely to generate much attention. Nonetheless he firmly believes prayer can be as effective as political lobbying, education and activism in strengthening the pro-life effort. “I don’t think I will ever be outwardly active,” he says. “I’m not a man of great action, but I certainly believe in the power of prayer to bring about positive change.”
Although his approach to pro-life work is more personal, Flanagan has great respect for the movement’s traditional leaders. He cited them as teachers who lead the movement by example and sacrifice.
Occasionally, Flanagan’s action plan includes distributing pro-life literature in churches. He has also participated in prayer vigils outside Henry Morgentaler’s Montreal abortion clinic. As well, Flanagan has passed out audio cassettes detailing the emotional impact of abortion.
Flanagan admits to an ambivalent approach to pro-life, pro-family issues prior to his new calling. A one-time “man of the world,” he went through a long period of faithlessness and tolerant attitude toward abortion. Yet a lingering emptiness eventually led to a return to the faith and a renewed respect for the sanctity of human life. “I may have done some harm to people in my past, but I’ve had the grace to be invited back to the faith.”
Flanagan believes his experience has left him more sympathetic to the views of pro-abortionists, radical feminists, homosexuals and others generally opposed to pro-life issues. “I’m conscious of the suffering that these people are experiencing,” he said. “I don’t sit in judgment of them. There is a certain sense of solidarity.”
At the same time, Flanagan doesn’t let his sympathy for suffering or misguided people cloud his thinking about pro-life issues.
To guard against complacency, he keeps up with the latest information on pro-life, pro-family issues. He is particularly concerned with the growing tolerance for the “culture of death” as seen in the drive for abortion, assisted suicide and the redefinition of the traditional family.
“Reading up on the latest news makes my prayer more meaningful. It helps to be aware of the depth of the problem,” he said.
Flanagan said it can be difficult to remain optimistic in the face of what appears to be growing social acceptance of anti-life forces. He said some people may believe the struggle has become practically insurmountable.
“The size of the struggle doesn’t slow me down at all, he said. “I’m not concerned that we are going to win. The Lord is going to win. The Lord is going to ask not that we succeeded but that we tried.”