Today the Catholic Church celebrates the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. On Saturday, we celebrated the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, and in just two short weeks we will celebrate the Feast of the Incarnation: Christmas. The Immaculate Conception, the Feast of our Lady of Guadalupe, and even Christmas are particularly maternal feasts. They recognize the key role that women—especially Mary—have played in the history of Christianity. And they recognize the degree to which the Church reveres the feminine genius, and the genius of motherhood.
A friend recently mentioned to me that it seems strange for the Church to spend this December celebrating women. “Women,” he said, “have had a difficult year with the Church.” He was referring to the “war on women” rhetoric that has been so pervasive in popular culture over the past twelve months. I suspect he was thinking specifically of the Church’s opposition to the HHS contraceptive mandate, and the rhetorical battle between America’s bishops and women like Sandra Fluke. My friend is an Episcopalian, and so he may have also had in mind the Church of England’s decision this November to restrict episcopal ordination to men.
The truth is that women have been at the center of our broad culture war for decades. Since the time of the sexual revolution, the term “women’s issues” has been synonymous with bitter social debates over sexuality, contraception, and the family. As with most election years, the rhetoric has been particularly heated, and particularly discouraging, this year.
Since the 1970s, the intellectual left has used trumped-up charges of gender inequality and oppression to advance an agenda of wanton sexual license and libertinism. The idea that women’s issues are only those concerning sexuality is shamefully reductive, and eerily dismissive of the idea that a woman might be more than just an object of sexuality.
Despite pockets of hope, the Church is mostly losing these culture wars. There is no other conclusion to draw from the election of a radically pro-abortion president, the expansion of homosexual civil unions and gay marriage, and the profusion of pro-contraceptive, anti-family media. Last week, a prominent Catholic university announced administration support for an on-campus GLBTQ club. Traditional moral norms are crumbling.
We need to continue the clear, unambiguous defense of traditional morality to which the Church, and many Christians, are committed. We are blessed with a host of articulate spokesmen and women making cogent arguments in favor of natural law. But despite the best efforts of excellent minds, the Church is largely unheard, and her arguments mostly distorted by a media that has lost its ability to think critically and examine empirical reality. The Church is being simply overrun by the pervasive rhetoric of relativism, false notions of equality, and the so-called “war on women.”
The irony of leftist cultural distortion is that Christian positions on social issues—abortion, contraception, marriage, most especially—are designed to protect the dignity and social standing of women. Women across the globe face abortion at shockingly disproportionate rates. In 2010, economist Tim Reichert demonstrated in these pages that contraception empirically harms female social status. And the disintegration of marriage will continue to contribute to the plight of single mothers raising children without ever hearing from fathers. But it is the Church and her allies, the left tells us, waging war on women.
Well-reasoned engagement with the forces of cultural destruction is necessary. But the lesson of the past twelve months is that we need to do something else. Reason alone isn’t winning battles. In fact the more we argue, the less we seem to be heard. The solution may be found in the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, tenderly embracing the humble Juan Diego, and tenderly embracing a people.
The solution to ending the culture wars is motherhood—a deeper awareness of the obligation Blessed John Paul II termed “cultural motherhood.”
Motherhood is the art of finding potential, and fostering it. Motherhood is the craft of focusing on the good and trusting that the rest will fade away. Motherhood is the penetrating beauty of unwavering hope, and unflinching love. This is how John Paul II called women to love culture. In imitation of Our Lady of Guadalupe, who transformed a culture for Christ, women have the unique gift of cultivating the seeds of beauty. The feminine genius is the practice of literally growing goodness in spite of incredible obstacles.
We need to grow goodness in Western culture. We need to find pockets of good—vestigial echoes of truth—and foster them. We need to refute what is evil—undoubtedly. But we also need to cultivate every possible inroad of beauty, if we ever hope for a re-flowering of Christian culture. Motherhood is our great social cultivator.
We face incredible obstacles in contemporary American culture. Many of us are despondent. And in despondency we should look to our mother—the Blessed Mother—and encourage, foster, and promote the cultural motherhood that Mary demonstrates. “Beauty,” reflected Dostoevsky, “will save the world.” There is nothing more beautiful than a mother loving her child into goodness—and nothing we need more urgently.
The Most Rev. Samuel J. Aquila is the Archbishop of Denver.
Timothy Reichert, “Bitter Pill”
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