Monday, March 18, 2013
Archbishop Thomas Wenski - The Archdiocese of Miami
Tonight at this vigil Mass of the fifth Sunday of Lent we also celebrate a Mass for Nascent Life, praying for those who are still in their mothers’ wombs waiting to be born. The idea for such a Mass came from our Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. At his initiative in November of 2010, at the beginning of the Advent Season — before the birth of the Christ Child — we joined with him and other Catholics throughout the world to pray for the unborn, keenly conscious that too many will never be born because their lives would be deliberately snuffed out by a procured abortion.
Today’s Mass brings us together again in the cathedral on the eve of the installation of a new pope, Pope Francis. As you would expect, he — as the Archbishop of Buenos Aires — has spoken out strongly and courageously on behalf of life, in defense of the unborn and all the vulnerable. But this Mass is also close to the great feast of the Annunciation — the 26th of March — which this year falls during Holy Week. The Annunciation recalls Mary’s great “Yes” to God’s plan — and once she had given that “Yes”, the Word of God became flesh in her virginal womb.
Because of Mary’s “Yes” she is given a place of honor in the devotion of the Church – for she is the first disciple, the first Christian and therefore a model for each one of us. Mary is also the New Eve. A favorite devotion of our new Pope Francis is to Maria, La Virgen Desatanudos: Mary, the “Untier” or “Undoer of Knots.” The knot of Eve's disobedience was loosed by the obedience of Mary. “For what the virgin Eve had bound fast through unbelief, this did the virgin Mary set free through faith.” (St. Iraeneus)
So tonight, in praying for all Nascent Life, we anticipate the Annunciation, the feast day in which we remember that Jesus — the Son of God made Man — began his life in the womb of Mary, as we all did in our own mothers’ wombs. The Annunciation recalls the dignity and sacredness of all life from the first moment of conception; and, the Annunciation recalls the dignity and the sacred vocation of every woman — a dignity exemplified in the life of Mary.
It is hard to understand that given the high regard we hold for Mary that some would accuse us in the Church of waging a war on women — because we defend the life and the dignity of the unborn. The Church is not the enemy of women — and certainly history will show that the societies and cultures where the Gospel took root brought women more freedom, not less freedom.
In our contemporary American society, there is a war on women — but not the one described by the media that attempts to pit women against the Church and her teachings and the Church against women.
It’s only when people begin to think of a woman’s fertility as a pathology, and pregnancy as a disease, it’s only then that the lie can be plausibly sold to the unsuspecting that the Church is at war with women.
Is there a war on women? Given that in more and more countries including our own, abortion is being used for “sex selection” — female children are aborted because a male child is more highly favored — one could perhaps argue that there is a “war on women”; but it is certainly not being waged by the Church. The real war on women is being waged by the proponents of our contemporary Culture of Death — a culture that argues for the necessity of legal abortion so as to protect sexual freedom, that is, sex freed not only from consequences but from real meaning. Does allowing for the death of a child perceived as being “inconvenient” really promote women and their dignity — or doesn’t it just protect male privilege — and irresponsibility?
In the Gospel reading today, we also see a war, a “war” on a “woman,” the woman caught in adultery. It is the scribes and the Pharisees who have “declared” war on her — demanding that she be stoned. These men want to eliminate this woman to cover up their own complicity in her sin — for stoning was the required punishment for her but not for her accomplice. Her death would also serve to protect male privilege.
While Jesus does not legitimate the sin of adultery, he rejects the fury and impudence of the sinners who wanted to be judges of the sins of others. Jesus’ justice is a creative justice — a justice called mercy. In Jesus, we see revealed the image of a God who loves his people to the point that they can learn to be merciful too.
In the “war on a woman” that we find in the Gospel today, Jesus takes the side of the woman. He writes the sins of fragile humanity on sand; but his mercy is written in the heart of a woman thirsty for life. We are called to do likewise — and in our work to defend the lives of the unborn, we must at the same time show ourselves to be always on the side of the women, the women who are contemplating whether to have an abortion and the women who have had abortions — for in every abortion, there are at least two victims, the unborn baby and the mother.
Allow me to quote Blessed John Paul II, who wrote in Evangelium Vitae the following:
“I would now like to say a special word to women who have had an abortion. The Church is aware of the many factors which may have influenced your decision, and she does not doubt that in many cases it was a painful and even shattering decision. The wound in your heart may not yet have healed. Certainly what happened was and remains terribly wrong. But do not give in to discouragement and do not lose hope. Try rather to understand what happened and face it honestly. If you have not already done so, give yourselves over with humility and trust to repentance. The Father of mercies is ready to give you his forgiveness and his peace in the sacrament of Reconciliation. To the same Father and his mercy you can with sure hope entrust your child. With the friendly and expert help and advice of other people, and as a result of your own painful experience, you can be among the most eloquent defenders of everyone's right to life. Through your commitment to life, whether by accepting the birth of other children or by welcoming and caring for those most in need of someone to be close to them, you will become promoters of a new way of looking at human life.”
This Friday and Saturday, throughout the archdiocese, we will observe Reconciliation Weekend: designated parishes will have extended hours for the sacrament of Penance. May the prayers of Mary, La Virgen Desatanudos — Mary the Undoer of Knots — loosen the knots of human respect, bitterness or vice that we have tied ourselves up with and thus lead us to experience the mercy of the Lord Jesus, who in forgiving our trespasses tells us: Go, and sin no more.