A pregnant woman has a feast today, December 12: Our Lady of Guadalupe.
Her apparition at Tepeyac in 1532, as an expectant Aztec woman, took place at the geographic center of the new world, in Mexico.
That same woman also had a feast last Monday, the celebration of her Immaculate Conception. From the first moment of her life in her own mother’s womb, she—by a privilege given her by God the Father, anticipating the redemption of His and her son, Jesus—was preserved from sin.
That woman was God’s work of art, what the creator intended all of us to be.
At the center of the American continent is that pregnant woman;
At the center of history, when B.C. became A.D., is that woman and her baby, Jesus.
At His first miracle, under His cross, at the first Pentecost, is found that same woman.
Never has a religion so elevated a woman as has Christianity.
The poet Wordsworth called her, “Our tainted nature’s solitary boast.”
Historians of the Roman Empire document how much the Church’s elevation of women threatened the status quo: in an empire that treated women like chattel, the Church declared her equal in dignity to man; in a culture that declared she could be dismissed from a marriage by a selfish husband (she could never divorce him!), the Church taught, with Jesus, that marriage was forever; in a society that coerced abortion against the natural maternal instinct, the Church proclaimed, no! In a culture where women were viewed as objects of pleasure for men, Christianity objected, raising sexuality from just the physical to a very icon of God’s love for us: personal, passionate, faithful, forever, and life-giving.
Women became saints; women rebuked pontiffs; women founded monasteries; women began schools, orphanages, and hospitals.
In the Church’s art, liturgy, poetry, and feasts, that woman, Mary, stood highest among mortals. As the poet John Ruskin observed: “There has probably not been an innocent home throughout Europe during the period of Christianity in which the imagined presence of the Madonna has not given sanctity to the duties, and comfort to the trials, of the lives of women; and every brightest and loftiest achievement of the art and strength of humanity has been but the fulfillment of the poor Israelite maiden’s, ‘He who is mighty has done great things for me’.”
In the development of the history of the United States, women in the Catholic Church were university presidents, hospital CEOs, and the most effective of professional social workers, decades before the rest of the culture caught up. Of the six saints from the state of New York whose intercession I seek each morning, four are women.
Every Catholic fifty-five and older can recall the days when the most influential, effective, and beloved people in the parish were “the Sisters.”
Today, many parish leaders, pastoral ministers, and revered spiritual guides, are women.
And, best of all, the Church protected and exalted the most noble vocation of all, that of a mother. “The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world.”
It is the Church who believes that the omnipotent God of the universe awaited the free consent of woman before His plan of salvation could proceed.
It is the Church who holds that the only human person now in heaven, body and soul, is a woman (a goal God wants for all of us).
It is the Church who runs the most successful private system of health care and education for women on the planet.
And yet, the caricature persists that the Church “keeps women down.” The narrative is already written in stone and unquestioned: “The Church is a medieval patriarchy that oppresses women.” To claim otherwise earns only scorn and snickers.
To those who claim, “Sure, women do all the work in the Church, but they are excluded from positions of ‘power and prestige’ because they can’t be priests,” Pope Francis replies that anyone—man or woman—who wants ordination for power and prestige should never be a priest, and that, if the Second Vatican Council taught us anything, it was that a Roman clerical collar was hardly necessary for service and leadership in the Church. As the pontiff points out, sure, the Church can, and should, enhance and increase the opportunities for leadership in the Church (which, Pope Francis repeats, does not include ordination); but, then, all “executives” seem to be observing that about their own “corporations,” and politicians, even here in America, make the same observation about all government.
To those who repeat, to other’s exhaustion, that the Church’s morality is “anti-woman,” the Church asks instead if those who treat pregnancy as a disease, and abortion and contraceptive chemicals as “medical procedures” and “reproductive rights,” are the real ones for women to worry about.
If there is a “war on women,” those who defend the bond of marriage and the sanctity of the family (realizing that women are the ones usually left shattered and financially strapped by shattered marriages); those who believe that abortion is destructive of baby, mother, and father; those who hold that all God’s children, male and female, are made in God’s image, and thus deserve dignity and respect; those who sacrifice to run the world’s most effective projects of health care and education for women (led, for the most part, by generous, faithful women); and those thought idolatrous for placing a woman named Mary at the center of history, are hardly on the wrong side, but the right side, of such an alleged battle!
In two weeks, 75 percent of the world will come to a stop to celebrate a mother and the birth of her baby. Millions of children will point to the newborn baby in nativity scenes throughout the world and ask, “Who’s that?” and parents and grandparents will whisper, “That’s Jesus, our Lord and Savior.” Then they’ll point to Mary and inquire, “And who’s that?” and the answer will come, “That’s His mother, without whom Christmas could not have happened.”
A blessed Advent!
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