The Unwilling Audience

Fr. Frank Pavone
National Director of Priests for Life
June 18, 2001

If you read carefully the Acts of the Apostles, you see a basic principle at work: we must bring the message to those unwilling to hear it. Paul and the other apostles did not wait to be invited to proclaim the Gospel. Their "permission" to preach it came from the command of our Lord, and their audience was pre-determined: all the nations. Naturally, preaching the Gospel is most pleasant when the hearers are willing, eager, and have already knocked on our door asking for the good news. But if we preach only to those who ask us to, we fail to reach multitudes who need to hear the message, and may not even realize that they have this need. The message itself tells us of our deepest needs.

Don't get me wrong -- I am not one who despises "preaching to the choir." The "choir" needs preaching, too. After all, if the choir does not do the singing, who will? Preaching to the choir is a particular form of preaching, consisting of nurturing the commitment of those already committed, deepening the conversion of those already converted, and guiding the activity of those already active.

But we must reach the far greater audience who will never come looking for the message we have.

This is especially urgent in regard to the sanctity of life, because in this arena, not only does a message have to be believed, but lives have to be saved. Not only do viewpoints have to be changed, but victims have to be protected. Perhaps the most important principle, then, for the pro-life movement to adopt at this point in time, is that pro-life activity which relies on the voluntary consent of the audience is insufficient. This is not to say that such activity is unnecessary, nor is this to say that such activity is without value.

It is, however, to say that the amount of time and energy our movement spends on such activity is out of all proportion to the amount of time and energy that is spent on reaching the unwilling audience.

To put it rather bluntly, effective social reform requires forcing the message on an unwilling audience. It means confronting the culture with what it does not want to hear. For example, along with preaching the pro-life message inside the Church, where people freely go, we need to proclaim the pro-life message on the public sidewalk outside the Church, where people can hear it whether they want to or not. This can take the form of prayerful life chains with effective posters, or literature distribution, or even special parades and motorcades.

The Supreme Court has repeatedly made it clear that what is protected by the First Amendment is precisely our freedom to speak a message to an audience that is opposed to it and even offended by it. It is part of the greatness of America that the unpopular message need not retreat only to the secret places where those who want it know how to find it.


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