by Deirdre A. McQuade
March 7, 2008
For 21 years, Women's History Month has been celebrated in March. In 2008, this observance will end on the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord (celebrated on March 31st instead of the traditional March 25th, so as not to conflict with Easter Week). It's fitting to end on this high note, paying tribute to the most pivotal woman in the history of humankind. Yet I wonder whether lesson plans for this awareness-raising month will raise any awareness of her!
The feast day marks that decisive moment when Mary, not yet fully understanding what the angel Gabriel was saying to her, nonetheless responded out of her love for God and said "yes" in her famous "fiat": "I am the handmaid of the Lord. Let it be done (fiat) to me according to your will."
The rest, as they say, is history. Not a distorted feminist "her-story" that seeks to erase references to men. Indeed, Mary's whole mission in life is to point others to her Son, the God-Man who could never exploit us in any way, and who is the source of all reconciliation, healing and authentic love, including between the sexes. Wherever women suffer injustice, exploitation and violence, the only hope for authentic justice will come through the transforming power of Christ and those who cling to him.
How different Mary's fiat is from the era-defining book Our Bodies, Ourselves and early slogans of the pro-abortion movement such as: "It's my body, my choice." These slogans popularized a false philosophy, rejecting the reality that we are not our own but were made by God in his image, male and female.
Secular feminists leave God out of "lifting up the lowly" and "casting the mighty from their thrones" in promoting their cause and take matters into their own hands. They assert autonomous women's rights, including the legal right, established by Roe v. Wade, to have an abortion. That legal right extends throughout the nine months of pregnancy for virtually any reason since the definition of "health" in the health exception includes not only physical health, but all factors (emotional, financial, and familial factors) relevant to the well-being of the woman.
But true, Christian humanist feminism – the kind called for by John Paul II – doesn't pit women against men or their unborn children. It refuses to embrace an ideology in which the rights of family members – born and unborn, male and female, young and old – are in competition with each other. He proposes that "women occupy a place, in thought and action, which is unique and decisive. It depends on them to promote a 'new feminism' which rejects the temptation of imitating models of 'male domination', in order to acknowledge and affirm the true genius of women in every aspect of the life of society and overcome all discrimination, violence and exploitation" (The Gospel of Life, 99).
Such cultural transformation will take much prayer. The Pro-Life Secretariat produces prayer resources for use in parishes, schools, homes, and ecumenical settings, including a beautiful Annunciation Novena called "A Heart Open to God's Will" found at www.usccb.org/prolife/issues/nfp/AnnunciationNovena.pdf. You may also download our new "Say Yes to Life" ad for your pro-life outreach. Go to www.usccb.org/prolife and click on the thumbnail image.
In honor of Our Lady's pivotal role in history, consider praying this novena before her feast day. May our imitation of her help bring an end to abortion and build the culture of life.
Deirdre A. McQuade is Assistant Director for Policy & Communications, at the Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. To learn more about the bishops' pro-life activities, go to www.usccb.org/prolife.