We knelt in the middle of Irving Boulevard on a hot June evening. It was 97 degrees at 7 p.m., and the heat was still radiating from the asphalt. People held their fists in the air. I prayed the rosary silently and was interrupted midway through the third decade. Eight minutes and forty-six seconds is too short for a rosary, but it’s a long time to kneel on hot asphalt, even if you’re on only one knee.
This was a Black Lives Matter protest, and it called to mind the first—and in some ways very different—protest I ever attended: a March for Life in New Haven, Connecticut. I recall wondering then, “What if people think I’m like those people?”—the ones carrying the “DEFUND PLANNED PARENTHOOD” signs with the Knights of Columbus logos on the bottom. It wasn’t so much the words on the sign that bothered me, and I’m a Knight myself. But I was uncomfortable with the idea that I might be associated with the kind of people who would carry such a sign. The horde of cassocked seminarians didn’t help, either. I felt nervous, as if friends in town would see me and think…what, exactly? “There he goes, trying to control women’s bodies”? I regret to say that my strongest memory of that day is this feeling of fear. In the words of Cardinal Rafael Merry del Val’s Litany of Humility, I have not yet been delivered “from the fear of being suspected.”
I was embarrassed to display a rosary at a pro-life protest. But I would have been embarrassed not to display a rosary at the Black Lives Matter protest. Why? Was I afraid that someone might think I was there only because I’m a boring, virtue-signaling liberal—the kind of person eager for any chance to perform his political righteousness? I told myself the self-comforting half-truth that I was not such a person: my motivations, I assured myself, were altogether different. I was one who hungers for justice, a soldier of the Blessed Virgin Mary, whose God scatters the proud, casts down the mighty, and raises up the lowly. My true motivations, surely, were somewhere in the murky middle.