Is the Rosary Always the Right Political Message?

Politics these days is about capturing the narrative. What is the story received by the public? Is it our story or theirs? To take just one example: the “War on Women” is one of the great narrative thefts of all time.

The reproductive rights radicals have long understood that the Catholic Church is their enemy. They have also recognized the utility of old and nasty prejudices, chief among them anti-Catholicism. Couple anti-Catholicism with the charge that old white men in robes will dictate our reproductive lives, and you have a pretty potent message.

Because of this, savvy Catholics, including several bishops, have understood that not everything has to be drowned in holy water. No longer do we cite Scripture and hardly even papal encyclicals.  These may certainly inform our inner lives and our convictions, but they are not the most potent element in swaying voters.

And here an important distinction must be made. What is good for religion, what is good for your soul and others, is not always what is most effective in politics. This is not to denigrate the faith, merely to state a fact.

The conundrum here is that the pro-life movement is still largely Catholic. Go to the March for Life and you’ll see images of the Blessed Mary everywhere, and crowds of kids reciting the Rosary. What motivates most pro-lifers is not science, but faith.

But pro-lifers have come to understand they must speak the lingua franca of our age and, therefore, have learned science. In fact, in most debates today you hear faithful Christians citing science – biology, embryology, genetics, and much else – while abortion absolutists cite Scripture in order to goad pro-lifers into revealing their “true motivations.”

Now, the media want to retain the old narrative, old white men in robes, blah blah blah. So when you get a bunch of young women out there holding pro-life signs and then off to one side is an old white man holding up a Rosary, which picture do they take?  The one that maintains their narrative, not ours.

On the very day that the Hobby Lobby decision was handed down, our side absolutely dominated the front of the Supreme Court. Some who were there say our side has never been better organized in front of the Court. First, we had the stairs right in front. News photographers want that picture of protestors with the Court behind them. Our side got there early enough to set up in the prime position.

We had drums and chants. We hardly ever have chants good enough or crowds large enough to drown out the other side. But on Hobby Lobby day, we did. And the other thing we had was the narrative. Our narrative is that young women support religious freedom and that young women oppose the contraceptive and abortifacient mandate. So it helped that, in front of the Court, was a long line of beautiful, young, pro-life women.

They were laughing and singing and chanting and honestly looking quite fetching compared to the often-slovenly sexual left. It must have broken the hearts of the photographers that they did not have some old white men with Rosaries!

Then, all of a sudden, they did. Not an old man but a young one, in a business suit, walked up and plopped himself right in front of these women and their signs. He whipped out, you guessed it, a Rosary and began praying. The news photographers giddily fired away. At long last the narrative they longed for. They even got a picture of a young lady standing beside him with the sign “Keep your Rosaries off my Ovaries.” It was perfect – but how last century, how very “war on women.”

Michael Hichborn, a very fine man, runs the Defend the Faith Program at American Life League, and I do not question his belief that a man praying the Rosary was the most effective political message to have been delivered that day. His American Life League colleague Rey Flores wrote a column at LifeSite that explained their thinking:

In the middle of all this, there was one sublime moment involving a man who was neither seeking attention nor scheduled to speak at the event.
While many of the rally organizers stood there preening for the cameras, yelling through bullhorns, and being as loud as possible, one man did the bravest thing any man or woman can do: He dropped to his knees, clutched his rosary, and asked the Virgin Mary and our Lord Jesus Christ for their help.
This simple act of faith drew media photographers away from the predictable protestors and provided a genuine unexpected photo opportunity.  

It is hard to think that he was not seeking attention, maybe not for himself but certainly for his message. After all, he could have said the Rosary off to one side, behind the cameras. Or in his car driving to the event, as my wife did, who was one of the “preening” speakers at the press conference. I suspect that most of the women behind the banners who were whooping up the crowd also said the Rosary that morning.

I have said the Rosary every day for more than twenty years. It is the most effective tool in our arsenal. And it is the best prayer in front of abortion clinics, where I have also said it.

But was it the best message in front of the Supreme Court that day? Was it the best message to convey to millions of Americans who may fear that we are nothing more than the Catholic Church trying to impose our faith on them?

I have to think that even the Blessed Mother would agree that sometimes the shiny faces of happy young women is more effective politically than even that most sublime Rosary.

Austin Ruse is the President of the New York and Washington, D.C.-based Center for Family & Human Rights (C-Fam), a research institute that focuses exclusively on international social policy. The opinions expressed here are Mr. Ruse’s alone and do not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of C-Fam.