Prayer and penance

Having worked on the inside of the pro-life movement for a dozen or more years, I have become more and more convinced of the absolute necessity of prayer and penance as a support for the necessary frontline action. So, I would like to take a few examples from the Bible that teach us how dependent we are on God and how helpless we are when we depend on ourselves.

The first is the story in Exodus 17, which tells of the battle between the Israelites and the Amelikites. We are told that the Amelikites, with a far stronger force, attacked the people of Israel. Moses ordered Joshua to go into military action against them. But, he went up on the mountain with Aaron and Hur. He knelt down with his arms held out in prayer and penance. According to the Bible, as long as he kept his arms up, the Israelites had the advantage. But when he allowed his arms to sag, the Amelikites began to win the battle. Eventually, Aaron and Hur held up the arms of Moses and the Israelites conquered.

I believe there is a great lesson for us in this story. We are also pitted against – humanly speaking – a more powerful foe. The pro-abortionists have the media on their side; they are strongly supported by the philosophy of secular humanism, which places man rather than God at the centre of the universe; their greatest allies are the radical feminists, who see the rights of women or their own convenience as superior to the lives of unborn children.

Perhaps the most serious of our disadvantages is the fact that the pro-abortionists have the backing of a government that has bartered its soul for a mess of politics and is far more interested in the ballot box than in the lives of unborn babies. The forces against us are truly formidable. But, so were the Amelikites, and yet, the Israelites prevailed because they trusted in God and expressed their trust by prayer and penance.

Tell the cowards to go home!

One of the most fascinating stories in the Bible, in my opinion, is that of Gideon. It is related in Chapter 6 of the Book of Judges. The Israelites were being harassed by the Midianites, who destroyed their crops and killed their animals. The Bible says the Midianites were like locusts and their camels past counting. There is the famous story of Gideon, who was just an ordinary young farmer. An angel told him that he was to lead the Israelites into battle against the Midianites. Gideon felt totally inadequate for such a responsibility and said so to the angel.

However, he obeyed God’s call and formed an army of 32,000 men. But God said to him, “Your army is too large. If you win, they will attribute the victory to their own power. Tell the cowards to go home.” Twenty-two thousand left him. Ten thousand remained. But God said, “Your army is still too many.” After another test, Gideon was left with 300 men to do battle with the vast hordes of the enemy. Yet he conquered, not by force of arms, but by the power of God. His men’s battle cry was, “For God and Gideon.”

The lesson here is the same as the previous one. The Israelites went into battle, but they depended on the power of God and the righteousness of their cause, rather than on the power of worldly endeavor. There are many other instances in the Bible that teach the same lesson: without the help of God our puny efforts are of little avail. The 16th chapter of the Book of Proverbs begins with the words, “Man’s head makes the plans. God gives the answer.”

The New Testament

The New Testament is not lacking in examples of the importance of prayer and penance. In Matthew, Chapter 17, after the Transfiguration, Jesus came down the mountain and found his disciples trying in vain to cast a deaf and dumb devil out of a young boy. Jesus rebuked the devil and the boy was cured. The disciples asked him why they could not cast him out. Jesus answered, “Because of your lack of faith. This kind of devil is cast out only by prayer and fasting.” Fasting is a generic word for penance.

I believe that Satan is extremely active in the world today. Abortion does not stand in isolation. It is part of a whole diabolic scheme to ruin society and destroy souls. The foundation of that destruction is the philosophy of secular humanism or a godless society, a society with man, rather than God, at the centre. It is a replay of the Garden of Eden scenario, “You will be as gods, knowing good and evil.” In other words, it is man and not God who decides what is right and what is wrong.

This has led to the materialism that is rampant today in our world and that expresses itself in the consumer society. We must have everything we see. It has led to the destruction of the family, homes without fathers and permissive sex – uncovenanted sex inevitably leads to unwanted pregnancies and abortions.

There is a devil abroad today who is both deaf and dumb; deaf to the cries of the unborn and dumb in the sense that even those who do not agree with abortion will not speak against it. And, this kind can be cast out only by prayer and fasting. My appeal to you is not to be apathetic. Heed the words of the Irish statesman Edmund Burke, “All that evil needs in order to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” First, find out what you can do and then do it – typing, editing, filing, writing, speaking, rescuing. But don’t forget to flavour your efforts with prayer and sacrifice. Thus, we shall overcome.

This column first appeared in The Interim, April 1990