I want to
talk about women today. So naturally I’m going to start
by talking about men – not because they’re more important
than women, but because they’re not.
Back in June
I had the pleasure of viewing an early version of Mel Gibson's
new movie, The Passion of Christ. It's really a wonderful
film. I hope all of you will see it and bring others to see it
-- although I need to warn you that it's not for young children.
It's too real and too violent.
also very moving. I saw it with five other men, just a small group
in a small room. When the movie ended, it took at least a minute
for anybody to say anything. The emotions were so strong that
none of us could come up with the right words.
Now as a
bishop, I talk about Jesus a lot, so I began to wonder why this
one film had affected me so deeply. I began to notice that other
men who saw the film had the same experience. I've known a lot
of faithful Catholic men in my life. But I know a lot more who
don't know how to articulate their faith, and many others who
simply delegate the "religion thing" off to their wives
and daughters. The Passion of Christ does something unusual
to men. Some can't get the film out of their head for weeks after
seeing it. And now I think I know why. There are two reasons.
A lot of
us grow up with a mental picture of Jesus that's really very strange.
It doesn’t correspond to His reality at all. Some of us
tend to imagine Jesus as either an unearthly miracle-maker or
a vaguely effeminate holy man. We don't know how to resolve who
Christ is. We believe that Jesus is fully God and fully
man. We say that publicly at every Sunday Mass in the Creed. But
we have nothing to look at to help us see what that means.
I think one
reason men remember The Passion of Christ is because
Jim Caviezel -- who gives just an astonishing performance -- shows
us Jesus as someone who is absolutely real, both in the divinity
of His person, and in the humanity of His nature, friendships
and suffering. And that manliness of Jesus, that heroism,
is something men can respect and love and want to follow.
But of course,
manliness and heroism don't exist in a vacuum. They're shaped
by many things, but especially by examples of courage. They're
formed by a daily, intimate experience of love, with all the little
moments of joy and sorrow, teasing, correction and encouragement
that are part of real life. And that's the second reason men remember
The Passion of Christ. Not every man has a wife or sisters,
but almost every man has the memory of his mother's unconditional
love. Every man knows in his heart that the best of what he is
comes through his parents, and especially from his mother. And
what Maya Morgenstern shows us so movingly as Mary in The
Passion of Christ is how the love of a mother touched the
life of Jesus Christ. Jesus shared exactly the same moments of
maternal tenderness and humor that every son thrives on.
In our piety
sometimes we tend to think of Mary as a “means to an end,”
the vehicle God used to bring His son into the world. But God
chose Mary not to "use" her like an instrument, but
because He loved her. He saw in her the beauty and character of
a woman who would freely and lovingly shape His son into the man
He needed to be. We can't understand Jesus outside the love of
His mother, any more than we can understand ourselves outside
the experience of our families.
When we listen
to the Sermon of Jesus on the Mount -- "Blessed are you who
are poor; the kingdom of God is yours" (Lk 6:20) -- we're
also hearing Mary: "My soul proclaims the greatness of the
Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my savior . . . [for] He has lifted
up the lowly; the hungry He has filled with good things, while
the rich He has sent away empty" (Lk 1:46-47, 52-53). Out
of the faith and the flesh of Mary, the woman, God fashions the
Redeemer of the world. Without Mary, there is no story of redemption.
Without Mary, the woman of faith, there is no Jesus, the Son of
last few months, I've wondered many times why a film like The
Passion of Christ would trigger so much controversy even
before it gets to the theaters. Maybe you’ve heard about
it in the media. One allegation against the film is anti-Semitism,
which is a very serious sin. The Jewish community has good reason
to always be alert for it. As Catholics, we need to understand
and respect that concern. And we need to do everything we can
to resist any prejudice against the Jewish people.
seen the film, I don’t think anything in The Passion
of Christ qualifies as anti-Semitism. I think that secular
hostility to the film comes from something deeper and more inarticulate
than any worries about religious prejudice. We might even track
the source of that hostility to one particular moment in the film
that every Christian already knows, whether we've seen the movie
very end of The Passion of Christ, soldiers take the
body of Jesus down from the cross. They place Him in the arms
of His mother. It's an image we all remember from the 13th Station
of the Cross, and from Michelangelo's great sculpture, the Pieta.
And we're left with a picture of a man who -- out of love -- has
accepted betrayal, beatings, humiliation and death on the cross;
and a woman who -- out of love – has stayed with Him as
He suffered and died, and who now cradles her dead son in her
arms, in the same way she held him as an infant.
I think we
find the greatness of Mary right here, in this moment. She’s
lost everything. She's an image of humiliation and powerlessness.
But she's also a picture of what Job meant when he said, "Though
[God] slay me, yet will I trust in Him" (Jb 13:15, KJV).
Mary's kind of faith is unreasonable. Mary's kind of love is too
deep, too strong and too unselfish -- and it offends the pride
of the modern world.
the secular world hates films like The Passion of Christ
is because they persuade the heart with the logic of love. The
reason the secular world seeks to reinvent or reinterpret Mary
is because she's dangerous. She's the model of mature human character
-- a human being who co-creates a new world not through power,
but through unselfish love, faith in God, and the rejection
of witness goes against the spirit that dominates our world --
the immaturity and selfishness in our personal consumption, our
politics and our workplaces, and even within our families. André
Malraux once asked a priest to name the single biggest lesson
he had learned from hearing confessions. Without skipping a heartbeat
the priest said, “There are no grown-up people.”
for power is what the modern world is all about. It really doesn't
take very long to go from Francis Bacon saying, "Knowledge
is power;” to Napoleon Bonaparte saying, "I love power.
But I love it as an artist. I love it as a musician loves his
violin, to draw on its sounds and chords and harmonies;”
to Josef Stalin saying, "One death is a tragedy; a million
deaths is a statistic."
the newspapers. The result of our immaturity and selfishness at
every level of American daily life is a competition that breeds
an anger that breeds violence -- the violence of open warfare;
of religious terrorism; of unjust wages and unjust immigration
policies; of simply putting our own comfort above the needs of
others; the violence of abuse and infidelity between spouses;
and even the polite violence of the language we use to smooth
over the killing of new life.
8, the Associated Press reported that "a new combination
of blood tests and ultrasound can detect fetuses with Down syndrome
sooner, and more accurately, than standard U.S. screening tests,
offering women more peace of mind and more time to decide whether
to end a pregnancy." The article quoted one researcher as
saying that, "The absolute biggest advantage is that this
allows women to make private decisions" before they’re
mind and the power to decide are good things, but not if the price
tag is a human life. Children with Down syndrome are not a mistake
or a failure. Imagining them that way only reveals our own lack
of humanity. A friend of mine who’s the mother of a son
with a disability likes to say that the only difference between
German doctors in the 1930s and some of our own medical establishment
today is that now we have better PR firms. The hostility to human
weakness, the anger at human imperfection, is exactly the same
now, as it was then.
with Down syndrome are children of God. They can live happy and
fruitful lives. They give far more love back to their parents
than they ever take. And because they belong first to God, killing
them can never be a "private decision." It always has
wider consequences -- beginning with the grief of the mother.
It's the woman who bears the spiritual cost of an abortion. Not
the doctor, not the researcher, and too often, not even the father.
That's the lie in sanitized language like "peace of mind"
and "private decision." The mother always bears
the cost, because every mother is always a part of her child.
spoken a lot, over the years, about our culture of selfishness
-- the unrest that forces us to keep feeding our appetites to
prove that we control the world around us – but it bears
repeating here, because our immaturity and self-absorption have
created four big problems.
problem is our inability to reason. Reasoning takes time.
It needs a vocabulary of ideas. Reasoning forces us to test and
compare competing arguments. But the America we live in today
is a culture built on marketing, and marketing works in just the
opposite way. Marketing feeds our desires and emotions, and it
suppresses critical thought, because thinking gets in the way
of buying the product or the message. That’s why marketing
is tied so tightly to images -- like fast cars on an empty road.
Images work on our appetites, quickly and very effectively, at
the subconscious level.
a second problem: our inability to remember. The historian
Christopher Lasch once said that Americans are a people stranded
in the present moment. We like nostalgia, because it’s a
kind of entertainment. But we really don't like history because
the past -- as it really happened -- burdens us with all sorts
of unfinished business. It's a pain in the neck. History imposes
obligations on the present, but Americans prefer to think that
we invent ourselves, and that anything is possible. The result
is that Americans usually have a very poor grasp of history, and
we learn too little, too late, from the lessons of the past.
problem is our inability to imagine and hope. Americans
like immediate results. We're practical. We're very good at making
money, and we're very, very good at science and technology.
But technology always comes with a price. Edward Tenner called
this the "revenge of unintended consequences." And one
of the unintended consequences of our science is that we’re
now the victims of our own power.
Anthony Bevilacqua retired earlier this month, I had the privilege
of succeeding him as interim chair of the bishops' Pro-Life Activities
Committee. And one of my first jobs was reviewing a proposed letter
to congressional leaders that objected to granting patents on
human beings and embryos. Thirty years ago, "manufacturing"
a human person was unimaginable. Now it's plausible. Now it's
in the neighborhood, and what's worse, we've lost the moral vocabulary
to deal with it. We've forgotten how to talk about the soul, and
why the human person is more than just another animal or product.
imagination flow out of a belief in a higher purpose to our lives.
If we’re nothing more than very intelligent carbon atoms,
then hope and imagination are just quirks of our species. They
don't really mean anything. And any talk about the "sanctity
of the human person" is just a lot of beautiful but empty
and final problem is our inability to live real freedom.
Freedom is more than an endless supply of choices. Choice for
its own sake is just another form of idolatry. Real freedom is
the ability to see -- and the courage to do -- what's right. But
when we begin to doubt that right and wrong exist, we also lose
our ability to talk about things like freedom, truth and the sanctity
of the human person in a common vocabulary.
What we get
instead of freedom is a kind of anarchy of pressure groups and
personal agendas held together by just one thing: the economy
we all share . . . and that’s not the basis of a community
or even a good conversation. In fact our economy, more than anything
else in modern life, teaches us to see almost everything
as an object to be bought or sold. This is what Jeremy Rifkin
means when he describes American culture as more and more a "paid-for
experience" based on the commodification of passion, ideals,
relationships and even time. If we want freedom, we buy
it by purchasing this car or that computer. If we want romance,
we buy it by purchasing this cruise or that hotel package.
is, the more that our advertising misuses the language of our
dreams and ideals to sell consumer goods . . . the more confused
our dreams and ideals become. We trick ourselves to the point
where we no longer recognize what real love, honest work, freedom,
truth, family, patriotism -- and even life itself -- look like.
This is the
world American women face in 2003. And they have two ways to deal
with it. The first is to compete head on with men for a piece
of the power. That means beating men at their own game. And of
course, the record of the last 50 years shows that women have
all of the same intellectual skills as men and many of the same
physical abilities. In some areas, even in the military, women
clearly outperform men.
a catch. There's a cost. The price tag of this kind of "equality"
too often means denying the differences between women and men.
It can mean being just as competitive and aggressive as men. It
can mean putting career first. It can mean fearing the things
that make up the feminine genius -- the acts that make women,
women. That's why so much of today's secular feminism hates fertility.
That’s why abortion and contraception are such important
secular icons, even though they attack human sexuality at its
roots. Fertility is seen as a weakness. Children mean taking responsibility
for somebody else. Children mean -- or should mean –
that a woman will depend on the love of a husband. And that's
frightening, because too many men today never learned how to be
of false "equality" doesn't work because it tries to
escape who we are. It makes us look at and interpret the world
through a broken piece of glass. Germans in the 1930s looked at
everything through the lens of race. Marx saw the world through
the lens of class struggle. And now we have a generation of new
thinkers making exactly the same mistake, not with some bad racial
or economic theory as their lens, but with gender.
Not one of
these tools for understanding human experience works. All of them
always lead to somebody suffering. The reason is pretty
simple. We can't explain the human person without including God
in the conversation. And God has something to say to us about
ourselves, both in Scripture and through His Church.
us that, "God created man in His own image, in the image
of God He created him; male and female He created them" (Gen
1:27). That one simple truth about the equality of men and women
flows through 4,000 years of faith. Sometimes we've forgotten
it. Many times we haven't lived it well. But it underpins all
of Catholic culture so strongly that even Christianity’s
greatest enemies have seen it.
right at the peak of Muslim conquest in Europe, a Turkish writer
and diplomat -- Evliya Celebi -- visited Vienna. In his report
home he wrote:
this country I saw a most extraordinary spectacle. Whenever the
emperor meets a woman in the street, if he is riding, he brings
his horse to a standstill and lets her pass. If the emperor is
on foot and meets a woman, he stands in a posture of politeness.
The woman greets the emperor, who then takes his hat off his head
to show respect for the woman. After the woman has passed, the
emperor continues on his way. In this country and in general in
the land of the [Christians], women have the main say. They are
honored and respected out of love for Mother Mary."
the great Middle East scholar, once said that the status of women
is the single most profound difference between Christian and Muslim
civilization. He noted that early "Muslim visitors to Europe
[spoke] with astonishment, often with horror . . . of the incredible
freedom [and] deference" shown to Western women.
that little history lesson doesn't do a lot for women experiencing
bias or mistreatment right here, right now. But it does show us
movement, ideology, political party or institution anywhere,
in any country, can match the Christian faith in promoting
the dignity of women. And second, women should always turn to
the Church as their mother and defender, because in her arms,
in her strength, they can begin to re-humanize the world.
criticize the Church for not ordaining women to the priesthood
ignore her record of promoting the dignity of women. They also
misunderstand the nature of the Church herself, the sacramental
nature of the priesthood and the Christian understanding of equality
based on different but complementary gifts from God.
VI once said that, "Within Christianity, more than in any
other religion and since its very beginning, women have had a
special dignity." The Closing Message of the Second Vatican
Council said that, "The hour is coming, in fact has already
come, when the vocation of women is being acknowledged in its
fullness; the hour in which women acquire in the world an influence,
an effect and a power never hitherto achieved."
influence means and how that power is used -- those are the questions
that every woman in this audience will help answer.
and woman He created them." God made men and women equal
but different for a reason -- to love each other, to help and
complete and depend on each other in the family and in the world.
The genius of women is different from the genius of men. Every
few months I visit my mother in Kansas, and each time it's a little
more difficult because she's 93 now, and I know I won't have her
for much longer. But even now I can still look in her eyes, and
beneath all the age and the cares and the memories, I can still
see the young woman my father loved, and why he loved her.
their genius through mercy, patience, endurance and forgiveness
-- a hunger to embrace and protect what Edith Stein described
as the "living, personal and whole." But they also have
a realism that comes from the labor of bearing new life. I think
women, better than men, know what's true and important about the
world. Sigrid Undset, the great Norwegian woman writer, once said
that, "Facts may be true, but they are not truths -- just
as wooden crates or fence posts or doors or furniture are not
'wood' in the same way a forest is, since it consists of the living
and growing material from which these things are made." Men
usually understand the facts of their daily life. But I think
women more easily see the truth of the people and the relationships
hidden behind the facts.
of every woman is to love; to protect and nourish the
lives entrusted to her; and to support the full development of
life in others. It's the same whether you're a mother, or a consecrated
religious, or a woman who lives the single vocation. It was true
for Dorothy Day in all of her political organizing. Day once described
her radicalism as “works of mercy.” And in converting
to the Catholic faith she said, “I loved, [and] like all
women in love, I wanted to be united to my love.” The genius
for love is written on the heart of every woman, and
it's the same whether you're a teacher or lawyer, a scientist
of Avila, one of the great doctors of the Church and the intellectual
equal of any man of her day, reminded herself and her Carmelite
sisters every morning to, "Accustom yourself continually
to many acts of love, for they enkindle and melt the soul."
Teresa knew what was true and important. Women who love well become
real women. And in becoming real women, they draw men into being
Catholic Daughters of the Americas began 100 years ago, the world
was a very different place. As I was browsing through my copy
of A Century in Review – which is a wonderful history
of the Daughters, and if you don’t have a copy, I hope you
can get one – I was struck by the character I found in so
many of the faces of the women who have led and served the Daughters
over the years.
strong, intelligent women. They deeply loved their faith. Each
of their lives was a seed that bore fruit in service to the Church,
defense of the family, religious education, help for the poor,
support for the missions -- in other words, in almost every form
of Catholic apostolic action in the world. Their legacy now belongs
to this assembly today. And believe me, the Church needs you.
Mother Church needs Catholic Daughters. And the world
urgently needs the witness of Catholic women -- because
the next 100 years will be even more challenging, than the last.
of us, the future belongs to the plan of God. He made each of
us different to do different parts of His work, and to be saints
by different paths. Earlier today Pope John Paul II beatified
another Teresa, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, and I think in her
understanding of love -- the same unconditional love Mary had
at the foot of the cross -- we can end our words and begin our
said, "Stay where you are. Find your own Calcutta. Find the
sick, the suffering and the lonely right there where you are --
in your own homes and in your own families, in your workplaces
and in your schools . . . You can find Calcutta all over the world,
if you have the eyes to see. Everywhere, wherever you go, you
find people who are unwanted, unloved, uncared for, just rejected
by society -- completely forgotten, completely left alone."
here, today, right now, may God grant us the courage to be the
women and men He created us to be. May God grant us the courage
for the privilege of being with you today.