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Celebrating mothers, celebrating women

Kathryn Jean Lopez

Editor's note: Below are Ms. Lopez's remarks from the 28th Annual Ball for Life, a dinner that raises funds for Good Counsel maternity homes in the New York metropolitan area.

Pope Francis was talking about the importance of daily examination of conscience and Confession the other day so I’m going to begin with mine.

I was asked me some months back if I’d speak at the Ball for Life this year. In the mess that is my inbox -- which some of you have been casualties of -- I apologize but you’ll understand what I’m talking about -- I said sure, happy to do anything for Good Counsel if they think it’s helpful!

It actually wasn’t until last week that I realized the whole “honoring” aspect to tonight. Had I focused months ago, I’m sure I would have made a convincing case that one of the worthy people in this room who actually save lives instead of occasionally tweeting about people who do who are much more worthy to be honored instead.

But here we are. And on the principle that you cannot give what you do not have, I am deeply grateful for the kindness that is your gracious gratitude. When we honor people we give thanks for good things, we encourage the good, and we help one another be good. Tonight you remind me of the moral duty that comes with having a byline and a public voice. You encourage and challenge me. These are good things. Thank you.

And tonight is a wonderful gift because tonight we raise money for the important work Good Counsel does as we celebrate motherhood. The people we actually honor tonight are mothers who say yes to life in the most difficult circumstances. We give thanks to those who love and support them. We pray every mother knows she has love and support.

I believe this to be a primary mandate of our day: To make abortion unthinkable by infusing the culture with the dignity and joy of the alternatives.

And I think that a fundamental part is to celebrate women -- as creative and grace-filled nurturers -- in bold and consistent and demonstrable ways. We need to lift up and reintroduce some natural wonders and in ways people living in 2013 will understand. Yes, using the latest technology and going where people gather. Also by encouraging and telling the stories of real, living women who embrace life in the world we live in, even seeking to answer the universal call to holiness in their lives. The world needs to know the people in this room don’t want to “turn back the clock,” as we are so often accused, but move forward as better stewards and neighbors, demonstrating that real hope exists.

Now, I confess, in some of my younger days -- believe it or not I’m in my 16th year at National Review -- I shied away from if not was recoiled by most “women” talk. Maybe it was fatigue after having to explain one to many times how a woman could possibly be pro-life, defend the “male patriarchy” in the Church, or consider voting for a Republican. In politics, all too often, whenever the word is used, it’s driving an agenda deeply harmful to women.

But there are two dangers here -- in my inclination there, that maybe some of us have in common. One is that we let the words “woman” and “women” be used and abused in the media, politics, establishing a common cultural understanding, which perpetuates the use and abuse of women and hurts men and contributes to misery in the world. And, as we know, it has grave consequences. I do think that is part of the reason JPII used the f-word, feminism. Because we cannot surrender words. The other reason my inclination is dangerous is that we just could wind up talking amongst ourselves and never communicating the splendor of truth about women and men and true love in Christ to the world beyond the Ball for Life.

There is an urgency to our task, to sharing the Gospel truth about women. We shouldn’t have anxiety about this by we should let the Spirit guide us, always respecting the freedom of both our allies and those who don’t understand what we are trying to communicate. But make no mistake there is an urgency to fully engage the culture in a celebration of women. To do it creatively and lovingly and consistently with the witness of our lives.

This urgency is the reason, as I understand it, that Pope Benedict resigned this Lent, giving us this new pope who with all his energy pleads with us to know God’s mercy and let the Spirit guide us. Literally -- physically -- pleading.

Before B16 -- it is easier to tweet -- resigned, in October, he handed me a letter meant for every woman in the world. It was the same letter that Paul VI issued on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception in 1965, at the closing of the Second Vatican Council. Benedict reissued it as if to say: we didn’t communicate this, you didn’t receive this. Let’s try again. Let’s help Trinitarian truth heal the wounds and divides of the last 50 years.

The letter said, in part:
the hour is coming, in fact has come, when the vocation of woman is being achieved in its fullness, the hour in which woman acquires in the world an influence, an effect and a power never hitherto achieved. That is why, at this moment when the human race is under-going so deep a transformation, women impregnated with the spirit of the Gospel can do so much to aid mankind in not falling.

Can you imagine how different the world might look today if this was the world’s understanding of what the Catholic Church thought of women, of what the pro-life movement thinks of women? If this and Humanae Vitae were fully embraced and communicated? Can you imagine the possibilities for American culture and policy?

We need this culture to be awash with beautiful, uplifting stories of love and courage. Of motherhood -- biological and spiritual. We need people tripping over stories of self-sacrifice and the redemptive joy of true self-giving love. If we lead with love in upholding the beautiful dignity of each individual woman, women will listen, men will feel a new freedom, young people will be saved from the confusion of their lives … families will be strengthened and even made possible. It doesn’t seem possible for all too many today -- who have never seen it work in their life’s experience, with few celebrated popular cultural reference points.

The other night I typed the words “I Don’t Want an Abortion” into Google. I found the “Unwanted Pregnancy? Need Help?” ad first. “Private, Safe Abortions,” it read, there on the Google page, without any clicking. “Expert Caring Doctors & Staff; State Licensed Surgery Center.” It all sounds quit comforting and routine. Maybe even expected. Then I saw the word “monstrous.” The search results continue like that. If it was a little distressing for me, imagine what it’s like for a scared mother.

We must inundate the world with stories of the likes of Good Counsel. Of the real people willing to help. Of the resources. Of real and heroic love. Catholics have a special duty to introduce people to the Blessed Mother by accepting her motherhood in our own lives. We need to not just namedrop but truly get to know and share the practical, mystical, spiritual wisdom, leadership, and prayers of women saints and doctors of the Church.

Some of you are already aware of the Catholic Voices. It began in England and a few friends of mine and have been adapting the model here in the U.S. The whole idea is to help us better make the case for the church in the public square. The public square being not just the media but in the workplace, on the train ride home, at the neighborhood barbecue or the bar on Friday night.

(There is a handy book with a great title that my friend Austen Ivereigh published with Our Sunday Visitor: How to Defend the Church without Raising Your Voice. We can! And must!)

The idea is to not necessarily win an argument, but to shed light, not heat, to open doors to the Gospel and the Sacraments.

The other day I watched in one of Live Action’s undercover videos, during which late-term abortion doctor Leroy Carhart explained the good that is late term abortion, in almost sacramental terms. He’s convinced himself of this and so has our culture. The cross is increasingly foreign, religion is seen as not much more than a “safe harbor” -- as one of the hosts of one of the Sunday shows put it one Sunday morning as it happens -- and actual true joy seems implausible if not impossible to people. We need to infuse every debate with love. We need to tell stories of self-sacrificial redeeming love. We need people to know there are people who will walk with them, who pray for them, they need to see the alternatives to abortion and the life choices that all too often lead people to have to Google about abortion, that bring them to Planned Parenthood’s door.

Maybe let’s each one of us start by: If we’re not already saying a daily Memorare, Rosary, or another favorite Marian prayer for mothers looking for a Good Counsel and telling three people we don’t know about Good Counsel tomorrow and over the weekend. (I picked three for the Trinity -- seemed appropriate.)

When I talk about leading with love I of course don’t mean that in a Hallmark card kind of way. I say this because there is a danger, too that we can make ourselves look naïve to the pain of the world. We must lift high the Cross in the most practical ways, demonstrating that we’re here to walk with our brothers and sisters. Like Mary Magdalene, we are called to announce that Christ is risen, that suffering has meaning, that we are called to a wedding feast, as hear on earth weddings aren’t always what God’s ordered them to be; so much so that it’s becoming foreign as we settled for New Normals as losing experience and vocabulary.

In an interview with me for National Review Online last year, Philadelphia’s Archbishop Chaput told me: “The public discourse of Catholics needs to be guided by charity and respect for others, but above all by truth. The truth can be difficult, so we often want to soften its edges. But this just wastes time and compounds our problems. Candor can be uncomfortable in the short run, but it’s much healthier in the long run.”

“The point is this,” he said: “We need to be frank with each other as Christian adults, frank in our public witness and frank in our own self-criticism. Again, we also need to be prudent and kind — but not at the expense of courage, and not at the expense of speaking the truth.”

We are called to lead with Christ’s love -- which is not easy -- to tell the truth with prudence and courage! This is all too important to leave to all too often miserable political debates.

Servant of God Elisabeth Leseur, a French laywoman wrote: “Let us love. Let our lives be a perpetual song of love for God first of all, and for all human beings who suffer, love and mourn. Let deep joy live in us. Let us be like the lark, enemy of the night, who always announces the dawn and awakens in each creature the love of light and life. Let us awaken others to the spiritual life.”

“I have seen the Lord!,” Mary Magdalene announced to the Eleven. May all of our work proclaim this! May our words and work flow from our own daily encounter with Christ. Be guided by the Holy Spirit. Help people who might not have a model for fatherhood know God the Father.

May we never tire of raising our voices to show people that there are resources, there is help -- that we’ll walk with the single mom and be a friend to the dad who is trying. May we tirelessly infuse our lives, and every communication and even political debate, with love.

Let us pray for one another. That we are not afraid. That we grow ever deeper in our Lord. That we open doors with our work and witness. That we love one another and people find the help and healing they need.

Topics: Abortion , Culture , Faith , Motherhood , Pro-Life , Relationships , Women's Health

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April 16, 2014

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Gospel of the Day

Mt 26:14-25

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First Reading:: Is 50:4-9a
Gospel:: Mt 26:14-25

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Mt 26:14-25

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