With the stoning of St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr “a great persecution arose against the church in Jerusalem” and “Saul laid waste the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison” (Act 8:1,3). Paul got authorization from the High Priest to go to other cities and round about Christians, so he set out for Damascus. The story of his conversion is well known. A light flashes around him, he falls to the ground and he and his companions hear a voice: “’Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’ And he said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And he said, ‘I am Jesus who you are persecuting…’” (Acts 9:1-5).
It has frequently been noted that Saul was persecuting Christians (or as they were called back then, followers of ‘the Way’). So Saul, we assume was surprised by the question posed to him; “…why do you persecute me?”…”me” as it turned out being “Jesus”. Saul probably did not think he was persecuting “Jesus” who he thought to be merely a dead controversial rabbi. Yet, it is revealed to him that in persecuting followers of ‘the Way’ he indeed is directly persecuting Jesus.
Today, in a very different set of circumstances, we see a worldwide persecution of unborn babies…an unrelenting persecution. The persecutors all have legal authorization to do their deadly deeds, in fact, in some quarters many of them are considered heroes (just as Paul probably was in his zealous roundup of defenseless Christians). These unborn children – each on his or her ‘Way’ to being born – are each personally identified with Jesus. Millions of our fellow citizens would be shocked if they heard the words from Unborn Jesus calling them by name and asking them: “Why do you persecute me?” But we have similar words from Jesus in the New Testament: “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me…” (Mt 18:5) And “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me” (Mt 25:40).
Many abortionists and women who have had abortions (and men involved with abortion) have had their own conversion on the road to Damascus when each, in his or her own way, have heard Jesus personally calling them and asking “Why do you persecute me?” And they have become inspired and eloquent defenders of the unborn, following in the footsteps of St. Paul. Let us continue to pray for those who support and promote abortion, just as St. Stephen prayed for Saul and his misguided companions (Acts 7:60).
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