The world needs the gift of the feminine genius

I try not to pay attention to bumper stickers. It is important to drive safely and calmly. Many of the bumper stickers I see leave me frustrated and are a real distraction. So when I can, I keep my eyes away from the bumpers in front of me. Last week though, I saw a bumper sticker that left me frustrated, sad and, frankly, confused.

The slogan was simple. It read: “Pro-woman. Pro-child. Pro-choice.” I was baffled. I can’t imagine that anyone with a basic knowledge of biology would really believe that legal protection for abortion is “pro-child.” Each time an abortion takes place, a child—a unique, small and miraculous human life never to be repeated—is extinguished from earthly existence.  Science, with or without God, demonstrates that human life begins at conception.

The pro-choice position affirms that some things are more important than the lives of the unborn. In fact, most pro-choice leaders will admit this—that the unborn are unique lives, but that freedom, or choice, or “compassion” trumps the life of the unborn child.

It is equally confusing that anyone would believe that legally protecting abortion is good for women.  You cannot be pro-woman and be pro-choice.

Studies show consistently that abortion often leads to mental health crises and an increased suicide rate among women. Surgical and pharmaceutical abortions are dangerous medical procedures with a higher statistical rate than other surgical procedures of complication, hemorrhaging and even death. No evidence suggests that legal protection for abortion has made the procedure more medically safe.

Erika Bachiochi, in her book “The Cost of Choice,” demonstrates from a sociological standpoint that legal protection for abortion enhances poverty among women by diminishing any drive for economic or political protections for motherhood. In short, Bachiochi argues that because feminists have spent so much time and energy ensuring the legal protection for abortion, they have diminished the expectation that motherhood, and mothers, should have some protections in the workplace and the marketplace. Legalized abortion has created strong cultural and economic expectations that women should avoid motherhood. In the name of choice, suggests Bachiochi, women are left with no choice but to delay or avoid motherhood to gain basic economic security.

Most fundamentally, abortion harms women because it diminishes the dignity of motherhood. Legal protection for abortion has fostered a cultural perception that maternity is something to be avoided—a problem to solve.  But motherhood is a gift unique to women.  Blessed John Paul II reflected that motherhood is essentially the gift of “a special openness to the human person.” In the model of motherhood, all women can give the feminine genius of nurturing, fostering and loving to the world. Abortion has robbed us of our ability to appreciate that unique gift—to appreciate the genius of women.

Abortion is not pro-woman. Abortion is anti-woman. Abortion hinders and diminishes what is unique to women. Furthermore it has contributed to women being treated as objects of gratification by men.           Because of abortion, we have lost the sense of the feminine genius and the dignity of women. We need to rediscover it.

In the Archdiocese of Denver, there are many organizations which recognize and support the dignity of women. I would like to highlight just two: the Gabriel Project, and Endow.

The Gabriel Project is a network of parishes and volunteers that provide women and families with material, spiritual and emotional support at all times but especially during and after pregnancy. The Gabriel Project connects women with needs to people who will love them—who will support them and honor the dignity of their feminine genius. The Gabriel Project and its volunteers are committed to supporting motherhood as a community and to supporting women as they live the vocation of motherhood. The Gabriel Project has helped women in prison, in addiction, and in poverty to become the mothers God has called them to be.

Endow is an apostolate committed to forming women with an awareness of their dignity and their feminine genius. Endow forms small communities of women who study the Church’s teaching on femininity, and who learn how to live an authentically Christian feminine presence in the world.  Endow groups meet in homes, in schools, in homeless shelters and in convents in order to discover the plan of God for women in the world. Many women I know who have participated in Endow have experienced a new joy as they have discovered their God-given feminine dignity and gift.

Society and culture need the gift of motherhood—the gift of the feminine genius!  Without it, we fail to appreciate the dignity and the potential and the gift of one another.  Without the feminine genius, we easily lose sight of our humanity. Without the gift of women, we cannot really be pro-life.

Endow, the Gabriel Project and many other apostolates like them are truly pro-woman—they understand the dignity God has bestowed on women. If we are formed to appreciate that dignity, then we will be pro-woman and always pro-life.

COMING UP: Did Christians ban the Games? Tales, myths and other fun facts about the ancient Olympics

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The 2020 Summer Olympics began less than a week ago, and as is usually the case, there’s been enough stunning athleticism, shocking upsets and yes, even a little bit of drama on display to keep the water cooler chatter abuzz until at least the 2022 games.

At their best, the Olympic games bridge cultural divides and unite countries around the world as the greatest living athletes around the globe compete for the coveted gold medal in their respective events. There’s a spirit of global camaraderie that welcomely comes about during every Olympiad; whether watching the Games at home with the family or going to a local bar to cheer on your favorite country, the Olympics bring people together in a way that most other sporting events do not.

Another astounding thing about the Olympics is how they’ve endured over the millennia. Indeed, they provide a special glimpse into the history of the world and those common qualities of humanity that will never die; namely, the need for both unitive, universal community and friendly but fierce competition.

The first recorded Olympic games took place in 776 B.C., though some historians speculate that they could have began as early as the 10th century B.C. The games were held every four years in Olympia to honor the greek god Zeus as one of four Panhellenic festivals, this one coinciding with the second full moon following the summer solstice, usually at the end of July or early August. The Olympics became so significant that the term Olympiad was used to mark a year the games took place, and became a common unit of historical time measurement.

Now, the ancient world wasn’t exactly known for its amicability or even peacefulness, as indicated by the countless wars and power usurpations that took place throughout its history. However, Olympic festivals were marked by a truce among the Greeks called ekecheiria, which roughly means “holding of hands.” This ensured safe travels for athletes and spectators as they made their way to the festival and was a common basis for peace among the Greeks. That the Olympic games could get even the constantly feuding Greeks to lay down their arms and come together in a spirit of solidarity speaks to their significance in ancient history.

Early Olympic events included the footrace, wrestling, the long jump, the javelin throw, the discus throw and boxing. Of course, it’s nigh impossible to read about the ancient Olympics and not come across epic tales of chariot racing, an event which was briefly banned early on but was reinstated by the first century B.C. and drew the interest of several key Roman figures (more on that later).

By the fifth century B.C., athletes from all over the Greek-speaking world came to Olympia for the games. The footrace, also called the Stade or Stadion, was considered the most prestigious event, and is where the english word “stadium” is derived from. Stade was a unit of measurement in ancient Greece which modern historians say is the rough equivalent to 600 feet or 200 yards, though the actual length has been a subject of debate for many years. Either way, it represents the length which runners in the Stadion ran to prove themselves as the fastest sprinters in the ancient world.

Interestingly, very little record about the Olympics games during the time of Christ exists. History tells us that the Roman emperor Tiberius, who was emperor during Christ’s life, won the chariot races during the 194th Olympiad in 4 B.C. In 17 A.D., the popular Roman general Germanicus, who was Tiberius’ adopted son and the future father of the third Roman Emperor Caligula, won the chariot races in 17 A.D., presumably around the time Christ was a teenager.

About those chariot races: they were known to attract elite political figures, some of whom won based on true skill, and others who only wanted the appearance of winning to further exert their power and status. During the 211th Olympiad, Emperor Nero, known for his fierce persecution of Christians and rather narcissistic personality, forcibly moved the Olympic games set to take place in 65 A.D. to 67 A.D. so he could compete while on a tour of Greece. He participated in the chariot races (with six more horses than the other competitors), and declared himself the greatest Olympic victor of all time, though historical eyewitness accounts tell a different story. Nero actually nearly died after a severe wreck, but Nero being Nero, he was still declared the winner.

Thankfully, Nero’s title as an Olympic victor and the Olympiad he “won,” which did not adhere to the established chronology of the games, were subsequently stricken from the official Olympic records after his death.

The Olympics grew over the course of 1,200 years until 393 A.D., when Emperor Theodosius I banned all Pagan festivals from the Roman emperor after Christianity became adopted as the state religion. Popular culture and history has long maintained this story of Christianity being to blame for the halt of the Olympic games. However, in recent years, some historians have disputed this account, saying that it was not for religious reasons but rather economic reasons that the games ended when they did. In fact, even after Theodosius’ death, there are still records of Olympic games taking place up until the fifth century. As the administration of Roman Empire evolved, the Olympics could no longer be sponsored by civil funds and instead became sponsored more and more by rich elites of the time. Simply put, the games became too expensive, and no one wanted to pay for them anymore.

The Olympics did not make a return for 1,500 years, until the Athens Olympics in 1896. Over the last 125 years since their reinstatement, the Games have become an integral piece of modern culture and a remnant of ancient history that was revived to great avail. As the Olympics in Tokyo continue over the next week and athletes compete for the gold, the words of St. Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians serve as a pertinent reminder of how the spirit of an Olympian imitates closely that of a Christian:

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified” (1 Cor 9:24-27).

So let the Games continue! And may the race be run not for a perishable prize, but an imperishable one.

Featured photo: Met Museum, Terracotta Panathenaic prize amphora (jar), ca. 510 B.C. Attributed to the Leagros Group.