8 OCTOBER 2000
Note: Presented on Pro Life Sunday, coinciding with the dedication of the Pro Life Memorial.
Scriptual Reference: Genesis 2:18-24

Monument, Facing West towards the school.

       Last January when I was studying Spanish in Mexico, I was chatting amiably with mi profesora, Carmelita, when she asked me about the food I had been eating in the home of my host family. The food that came from the cocina, or kitchen, of my host family was excellent. I tried to convey that my host mother was an excellent, and hospitable, cook. I knew the word for 'cook' or 'chef' was similar to the word for kitchen, or cocina. So I said, "La madre en mi casa es una buena cochina." Surprisingly, Carmelita burst into laughter. What was so funny? This Seņora WAS a good cook. Carmelita told me that the word for chef was cocinera NOT cochina. She translated for me what I had said: "The mother in my house is a dirty, disreputable pig.

       One little word. That's all it takes to be misunderstood. One little word misinterpreted in the sacred scripture can create confusion and error for centuries. Let's take a word from the first reading for example. In this account of creation, it seems that God has made 'a man,' that is to say, 'a male' first. None of the animals that God creates is a 'suitable partner' for him. So, God casts a deep sleep on the man and makes a woman whom he brings to the 'man.' Woman, it seems, is made only to provide for the needs of the man. This interpretation has wreaked all sorts of havoc on theology for many centuries. Many have used this text to prove that women were inferior to men, that women were to be subjected to men. Sadly, one medieval theologian went so far as to say that in their essence and design, women were nothing less than mis-formed and mis-begotten men.

       One little word can make a big difference. Contemporary scriptures scholars have taken a fresh look at the words in this passage. They observe that word for the creature created in God's image, rendered in our translation as 'man' is 'adam', a derivitive of 'adamah', which means earth. The word 'man' as we read it is better translated as 'human' or 'one from the earth.' The 'adam' is neither male nor female at first; it would make no sense for the human to be sexed if there was not another human to complement its gender (see the New Jerome Biblical Commentary, page 12). The proper words for man and woman, 'ish' and 'ishah', do not appear until after the second human is created from the first, and both are unique. This passage, they note, does not try to explain the mechanics of creation. It tries to tell us how God designed men and women to be dignified, equal, to be partners. Men and women are made by God to reflect God's own divine image.

       We as God's people have likewise come a long way in understanding the equality of men and women. In many ways, our society and our Church have affirmed the dignity of women. We have made great strides in our efforts to understand the special gifts that women offer to the world and the Church. But, there is so much more to be done. The dignity of each human life, especially the dignity of women and the unborn, is threatened in what John Paul II has called a 'Culture of Death.' Last weekend, some in our parish commemorated Respect Life Sunday by participating in the Life Chain along Meridian Street. This Sunday, after the noon Mass, we will dedicate a Life Memorial near the bell tower. The inscription on this monument says, "All human life, from conception to natural death, is a sacred gift from God." It calls us to recognize that each life as a gift from God: particularly the lives of women and the unborn. It reminds us of the painful role that abortion can play in the lives of many women. Let me tell you one such story.

       Once upon a time, there was a young, unmarried woman who was pregnant. The details of how her pregnancy came to be are unimportant. She was scared. Her parents had once told her not to expect any help or support if she ever got pregnant. She had discovered her pregnancy when she was five months along, and despite their previous resolution, her parents were willing to give her the $1500 needed for an abortion. They wanted to avoid scandal you see. This young woman had to travel to a special clinic in Louisville where later term abortions were available. During the drive, she was consumed by her own thoughts. Up until this point, this 'thing' was just a problem to fix: something to hide from friends and family. Until that very moment, she had experienced no connection of humanity with this child inside her. Then a miracle happened: for the first time, the baby moved! She almost wrecked the car when it happened. It was just a slight movement, nothing much really, but it made her stop for a moment. She drove on, thinking again of something else. Then, suddenly, the baby started kicking like crazy! It was almost as though it were fighting for its life. It was as if it was saying 'please! no! not this!' She was so shocked. She realized that she hadn't really thought of it as a baby. Softly, she began to cry. She cried all the way to Louisville. Her parents met her at the clinic, they paid their money, and she went to check in. They took her in immediately to an examination room to wait until the doctor was ready for her. Suddenly the baby began to move again, this time, even more than before. She began to cry again. Slowly, she put her hand on her abdomen where all of this mayhem was taking place. The baby stopped moving. It was as though she had calmed the child by mere touch. When she removed her hand, it started up again. Suddenly, she realized that this child's future, its whole life, was in her hands. She couldn't do it! "What right do I have to take the life of this innocent child?!?" she thought. She got dressed as fast as she could and went back out of the exam room. Her mother and father looked at her, surprised, and wondered why she was back out so soon. 'I couldn't do it!' she cried. The waiting room erupted with cheers and gales of laughter. Strangers hugged her and congratulated her for her strength. She knew that she had made the right decision. She knew that she would not be able to keep the baby, so soon after, she found loving parents to adopt her child. Her summary of the whole experience: "I am glad that God gave me the strength to perform this miracle."

       Despite the many encouraging advances that we have made in recent times, women in many ways continue to be oppressed and victimized. Their victimization leads to fear and isolation. Sometimes it leads them to abortion. Our struggle to defend the rights of the unborn must be seen in the light of our struggle to defend and protect the dignity of women. When it comes to respecting the dignity of life, God gives each one of us the strength to perform a miracle. Miracles happen when we redouble our efforts to prevent sexual assaults and domestic violence. Miracles happen when we reject media, music and videos that degrade women and portray them merely as sexual objects. Miracles happen when we work to protect the rights of women in the workplace from harassment and exploitation. And miracles happen even when we refuse to treat our mothers and wives as if they were our servants.

       Let's cut to the chase: If we want to respect life, particularly the life of the unborn, we must respect women. God shows us the dignity of each human person in the Genesis account and the radical equality of men and women. We must respect women by being a church that any woman could turn to in times of need, times of victimization and in times of pain. We especially need to reach out to women who unexpectedly find themselves pregnant and scared. We must offer forgiveness and mercy to women who have chosen abortion, just as God offers his abundant forgiveness and mercy. Finally, we must always treat our mothers with respect and dignity. When we can look at one another, man and woman, and see the face of God reflected in the dignity of each person, only then can we really mean it when we say "All human life, from conception to natural death, is a sacred gift from God."   +

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