“That’s what I’m talking about.” English dictionaries cite this phrase as an idiom for approval, satisfaction, and vindication: Prior words or actions may have been inadequate, but this at last is how I want things to be. Because the pro-life movement has a political dimension that often alienates us from other people, we may be tempted to seize on our occasional victory as a moral entitlement or reward. But Christian prolifers should take a longer view and stay focused on our ultimate destination.
St. Peter had one of those “That’s what I’m talking about” moments when Jesus was transfigured before him. “His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white and light.” This earthly experience of divine glory was what Peter had sought all along from the man he’d recognized as the Messiah. It was what he expected from the promised “kingdom of God,” about which Jesus had so often spoken. Peter figures the moment he’s been waiting for has arrived, and he doesn’t want it to end: “Lord, it is good that we are here!”
But Peter was wrong. Our Lord was not transfigured so that he could skip his passion and death, or so Peter and Jesus’ other disciples could skip the call to follow him on the way of the cross. Instead, the God-made-man allows his divinity to shine momentarily through his humanity, lending force to the Father’s words: “This is my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased. Listen to him.”
The first sentence echoes words spoken by God at Jesus’ baptism; Peter, as we know, has already acknowledged Jesus as Christ and Son of God. But the following one is the kicker: Listen to him. This is exactly what Peter wasn’t doing when he rebuked Jesus for teaching the necessity of the cross for both the Messiah and his followers. Peter wanted the Transfiguration to be the realization and display of glory now—for both Jesus and Peter. Peter was less enthusiastic about waiting for future glory, and still less so about the intervening persecution, suffering, and death Jesus (and later he) would experience.
Jesus’ first disciples faithfully passed on the story of the Transfiguration because they knew they would not be the only disciples tempted to forsake Jesus’ teaching for the sake of immediate gratification. Most of us have heard versions of the “prosperity gospel,” in which a benighted preacher promises worldly wealth to those who in prayer simply “name it and claim it”—and who preferably also make a generous donation to the preacher’s ministry.
But the prosperity gospel is not the only way by which Christians try to evade the cross by seeking glory now rather than waiting for our heavenly destination. Pope-Saint John Paul II left a series of teachings on human sexuality known as “theology of the body.” The way some Catholics explain it, the theology of the body sounds more like an instruction manual for satisfying sex rather than a way to understand the lifelong, penitential path of self-giving love and chastity.
And in every generation, princes and potentates contrive pseudo-Christian justifications for holding on to their power or advancing it. They claim to need power to do some good later on, or to protect others from some ever-present threat, or to do what God allegedly sent them to do—as if Our Lord wants the rest of us to follow Jesus on the way of the cross, exempting an elite destined for earthly glory.
Prolifers are perhaps unusually resistant to these false twists on the gospel of Jesus. Our work for the voiceless unborn and their mothers accustoms us to caring for others now, hoping to be rewarded later. But we are not entirely immune, and most of us can probably recall examples of pro-life posturing, either as political self-aggrandizement or virtue-signaling. These failures discredit our cause and distract from the spiritual foundation of our movement: That God loves us all, especially the weakest and most undesired. Our common human calling, young and old alike, is to respond to that love in kind.
So let us hear the teaching of the Transfiguration—“Listen to him!”—and resolve to avoid displays of glory—however desired they may be—this side of heaven. For now, let our efforts to speak on behalf of the unborn, and to come to the aid of their mothers, anticipate the day when we all recognize God’s love for us, and are able to return that love with an echo of divine extravagance and mercy.