Kathryn Lopez: Power of life shines through darkest night

Published 11:58 pm Tuesday, January 25, 2022

It was breathtaking to be at St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan on the morning of Jan. 18. The Christmas tree was gone from Rockefeller Center, but the church was packed yet again, this time with a strong showing from the NYPD, the new mayor, and other civil leaders.

It was the fifth anniversary of the death of Steven McDonald, a police officer, who was shot on the job by a troubled teen. Left paralyzed, he forgave his shooter and even offered him room in his home once he was released from prison. The young man tragically died, but I suspect McDonald prayed for his eternal soul.

McDonald was a young newlywed at the time he was shot, in 1986. His son, Conor, who spoke powerfully at the end of Mass, never knew him before he was paralyzed. McDonald had to relearn to talk, and needed a ventilator to breathe. All this, and he forgave the man who so derailed his life. Now that’s radical love.

The full cathedral was silent and reverent during the holy sacrifice of the Mass — so miraculous to those who believe. And toward the end of Mass, people spoke about the most important things. I know we all don’t believe the same things about God and life, and yet there was a reverent coming together. I’m not sure I knew that was possible anymore. And yet it is. There was a true, united spirit of humility, awe and gratitude in the air.

We marked the anniversary of McDonald’s passing on the same week as the March for Life in Washington, D.C. Annually — with a small representation during COVID and post-Jan. 6 security measures on Capitol Hill last year — pro-life groups from across the country march to the Supreme Court to mark the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that made abortion legal in all three trimesters of pregnancy.

Steven McDonald was a shining example of the value of every human life. His perseverance demonstrates what humans are capable of with humble trust that life is always a gift. Remembering his life — and introducing his story to new generations and non-New Yorkers — should inspire us to defend, protect and love every single person we encounter, whatever they believe, whatever they look like and even whatever they say to us.

During this year’s March for Life, a group of abortion advocates projected pro-abortion messages on the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception while 5,000 of us were inside praying. Another group planned a counterdemonstration back at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. These are desecrations, but not greater desecrations than what our law has enshrined with a near half century of Roe.

At the Mass for McDonald, Cardinal Timothy Dolan said: “After he was shot multiple times and struggled, groaned to breathe, to swallow, to move, to live, he faced the awesome question: Am I going to spend my days groaning, bitter, angry, useless, paralyzed? Or will I fight on? And forgive and forge ahead in a life of love and purpose and freedom?”

There’s a similar question we face as a nation. Disagreeing on a whole host of issues — some of them quite fundamental, like ‘will we defend the helpless unborn or kill them?’ and ‘will we treat the paralyzed or otherwise impaired or elderly like they are useless to us and better off dead?’ — can we actually choose to be decent to one another and hear one another out and live together?

Conor McDonald, who followed in his father’s footsteps and is now a police officer, spoke powerfully about what his father taught him about the reality of evil and our need to stay close to God, who is stronger than Satan. I’m quite certain that everyone in the cathedral was not on the same page. And yet, who could deny that evil has a stronghold in our country today?

I don’t think most of us want to dismiss the humanity of the most vulnerable. Could we start there? To want to help make life possible, at all stages? We must stop yelling at each other. It’s the only way to see our common humanity.

Kathryn Jean Lopez is senior fellow at the National Review Institute, editor-at-large of National Review magazine and author of the new book “A Year With the Mystics: Visionary Wisdom for Daily Living.” She is also chair of Cardinal Dolan’s pro-life commission in New York. She can be contacted at klopez@nationalreview.com.