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Voices Online Edition
Michaelmas 2001, Volume XVI No. 3
At the Crossroad -- the Cross
By Rita Joseph
With great pleasure we introduce our new editorial board member, Rita Joseph. Voices readers will recall her essay, "Deconstructing the Family", that appeared in Voices, Fall 2000. The Josephs live in Canberra, Australia. She writes and lectures on social issues, especially women's rights and the rights of the child, and has made a special study of the Holy Father's writings on family and on women. Her work has been published in numerous secular journals as well as in Catholic publications. Her essays have appeared in a number of recent collections: The New Imperialism (1994), The Abortion Debate (1994), Empowering Women (1995), Family, Education and Society (1995) and The Family: There is No Other Way (1996).
Mrs. Joseph has for many years been engaged in representing family concerns at major UN human rights conferences, including the original Beijing conference on women in 1995 and Beijing +5 conference in New York (2000). In 1999, she served as an official adviser to the Australian Government delegation at the Cairo +5 conference in New York. She has recently been appointed an adjunct lecturer at the new Melbourne campus of the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family Studies.
The following is the conclusion of her address to " A Call to Holiness Conference" held in Brisbane, Australia, in September 2000.
We are the men and women of an extraordinary time, exhilarating yet full of contradictions. Humanity now has instruments of unprecedented power. We can turn this world into a garden or reduce it to a pile of rubble. We have devised the capacity to intervene in the very well-springs of life. Man can use this power for good within the bounds of the moral law, or he can succumb to the shortsighted pride of a science which accepts no limits, but tramples on the respect due to every human being. Today, as never before in the past, humanity stands at the crossroads. And once again, O Virgin Most Holy, salvation lies fully and uniquely in Jesus, your Son.
--John Paul 11: Prayer for the New Millennium, September, 2000
How exactly right the Holy Father is in turning our hopes towards Mary and her son! How sure and perceptive is his summary of our predicament, and how brave and certain his faith that we will not be defeated. He addresses Mary as "the Dawn of Salvation" and prays that with her help "the darkness will not prevail over the light".
And yet here and now, in the midst of a world gone mad (pandemic abortion, contraception, embryo experimentation, sexual rights for adolescents, IVF rights for lesbian women etc.) that Dawn of Salvation can seem a long way away, a long time ago.
A baby born to a Virgin named Mary in a stable in Bethlehem -- a far cry some would say, from women's issues this millennium. But they're wrong. Mary's role transcends differences in time, transcends geography, ethnicity and even culture. Today, as ever, her story is our story,
Two thousand years ago, the Angel Gabriel, messenger from God, received from Mary the most significant "yes" ever proffered in human history.
Be it done unto me according to Thy word.
It was a "yes" that has echoed down through twenty centuries, still inviting all women, all men to join in that great historic submission to God's will. Mary's "yes" will go on resounding down the centuries, bringing hope, and meaning and courage, liberating and re-empowering, re-gracing all mankind till the end of time.
We know Mary's fiat was immensely pleasing to God. She understood what God was asking, and her reply was unequivocally generous, with the whole of her ardent young heart. Her powerful intellect unclouded by sin, she understood this was the point where mankind would embark on a second-chance, the turning point where the terrible errors in the Garden of Eden were to be put behind us, the turning point where a forgiving God could in justice enter once again into a covenant with His people. This was the new and everlasting covenant that God had promised to Abraham. Here was the Savior promised to Adam and Eve, a savior to dispel despair, to give them hope and strength and courage to endure their devastating loss and expulsion from Paradise.
And so Mary, Ark of the New Covenant, responded with the Magnificat, a truly inspired hymn of praise. But her Magnificat was also a powerful, comprehensive summary of her place in Salvation history. Effortlessly, she understood what we all must struggle to understand -- God's Holy Plan for our Salvation and the uniquely individual role assigned to each of us.
What a triumphant Magnificat it is! A young Mary's unalloyed joy and exuberance! Twenty centuries later, it still rings with the extravagant joy of a promise fulfilled. This was no ordinary promise. Mary's elation erupted from a heart brimming with extraordinary thanksgiving for an extraordinary gift of mercy. A soul filled with sheer, utter, blessed relief that God had remembered the mercy promised to our Fathers, to Abraham and his sons forever. A great singing of praises and thanksgiving, this exultant outpouring of a shiningly beautiful spirit!
My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit exults in God my savior...
In that moment, she saw, with the clear eyes of a pure heart, the whole great sweep of salvation history. She saw the vast complex of marvels the Almighty would work to bring His people home, to make it come right for us. The Magnificat leaves us in no doubt that this Mary with all the courage of youth, grasped the greatness of the moment ... the critical nature of her assigned role.
But before her life was through, this joyous young heart would be put through the wringer or as Simeon warned -- a sword would pierce her heart.
Did she know on that wonderful day when she greeted Elizabeth with such soaring happiness that one day, broken-hearted, exhausted, helpless to save her son, not allowed even to ease His pain, she would stand at the foot of the cross on which her son would suffer unbearably? Did she know?
She knew her Isaiah. She knew. Later she stood, her son in her arms, before Simeon as he prophesied that many men would refuse to acknowledge Jesus and that she herself would suffer a grief of soul of searingly sharp intensity. But I think this only confirmed what she already knew. I believe her agony in the garden lasted thirty-three years. She understood what was coming. She had pondered these things in her heart. Hadn't her 12-year-old son told her He must be about His Father's business? She knew "the promise made to our father Abraham". She knew so well the story of Abraham, the terror and agony of soul he suffered as he prepared his son for sacrifice as God had asked of him. I believe she knew that same terror and agony of soul as she too prepared her son, her divine son, her infinitely lovable divine son, for one ultimate sacrifice, an eternal sacrifice on the wood of the cross.
She knew there could be no rescue for her son. Not for her the blessed relief of an angel's intervention. Not for her the provision of a replacement sacrifice from the bushes. She knew. For her Son, there could be no rescue. Not if His great work of redemption was to be wrought. Not if justice for the massive debt of human sins was to be satisfied. Not if mankind was to be won a reprieve from damnation. Not if God's great merciful promise was to be fulfilled.
And so her poor Jesus, in an agony of soul that we can only dimly even begin to comprehend, came once and finally to this knowledge in Gethsemane. He had prayed: "If it be your will, Father, let this cup pass from me. Not my will but thine be done". And God's will was that there was to be no rescue. Not this time. There couldn't be. God loved the world so much He gave his only begotten Son. This beloved Son was to be the Lamb of God who would take away the sins of the world. Coming to rescue us, He could not Himself be rescued.
I've always thought how ironic that a rabble of rough Roman soldiers came so close to the truth when they mocked: "He saves others. Now let him save himself!" They nearly got it right. He saves others precisely because He would not save Himself.
The Easter Vigil liturgy has a remarkable line: "O happy fault that merited for us so great a Redeemer". But I can never pray that with any great conviction. I can understand the sentiment running through that joyous Easter hymn -- I can understand the wild joy that celebrates the decisive Easter victory over sin and death. I can join in the exultant reveling at so great a Redeemer, a Redeemer, who is great beyond all human understanding, a Redeemer, who has loved us far, far beyond anything we deserve. But I balk at the "happy fault" bit. I have long wondered what the sin was that Eve, and then Adam, committed that, together with our sins, warranted such a terrible price as Jesus' death on the Cross.
Whenever I revisit the disaster story of the Fall, I am uncomfortably aware of how close I myself come to Eve's behavior, how easily I follow her way of thinking, how little feminine human nature has changed. There is a kind of unexamined myth that women have evolved into a cleverer, more virtuous species. But I think not. There is still that same greed for choices, the same hankering for forbidden fruit.
Could Eve's sin have been any more terrible than today's deliberate, routine aborting of our own children? Certainly Eve, before the Fall, had a sharper intellect than any of us enjoy today. But it doesn't take a great deal of intellect to know in our hearts that abortion is wrong, that it is what the Holy Father has called "the shame of humanity". The Irish President, Mary McAleese once wrote that even "... the right to choose lobbyists must surely begin to feel a distinct wobble in the gut.... There is a day coming", she says, "when we will hear the voice from inside the womb, when its own authentic pain will be undeniable, when we will know with certainty that it is saying, `I want to live. I have a right to live. I do not need your permission to live'".
But even in the face of what the Holy Father has described as "the deadly anarchy of abortion", even in the face of this deadly anarchy, we must not lose hope.
"Our hope is in the Lord who made heaven and earth To whom shall we turn Lord: you have the words of everlasting life".
We must hold fast to the virtue of hope. We must remind ourselves constantly that suffering and evil are transient things. As followers of Christ, we must know that even if our worst fears come true, we are never more than three days away from the Resurrection. We know that in His love we can move mountains. In His love, there is nothing can defeat us, there is nothing we can't endure, nothing we can't accomplish. Look at us here: some outsiders would see us as a small, pretty harmless, pretty ineffective group -- no big names, no big money, not much political clout -- some might say we're not worth much. But they would miscalculate.
You see, we know something they don't know. We know the exact worth of each human being; we know the priceless value of each child, born and unborn, of each man and woman, rich or dirt-poor, employed or unemployed, able or disabled, in the prime of life or in the frailty of old age. We know that each of us is worth more than a king's ransom. Each of us has been ransomed by the King of Kings. And sure in this knowledge, we are here to answer the call to holiness. We want to please the Father, we want to do His will, to line our will up with His will, we want to make His Kingdom come. Pope John Paul has pointed the way -- we are to turn to Mary.
We are to emulate the quiet heroism of the mother of Jesus. Mary knew that she must join her own suffering to Jesus' suffering to release all the saving power of the great redemption. We are to model our own response to suffering on Mary's. Each of us will be called to take a part at the foot of the cross, offering our pain, our distress, with Jesus in reparation for our sins.
Euthanasia attempts to bypass the cross of suffering. But that is futile. We know there is no by-pass. Didn't Jesus warn us that the broad easy path leads to perdition? There is no easy way -- no detour around the cross. If we haven't experienced that essential truth yet, all we can do is pray for courage and perseverance to do our part well when that time comes.
Each day of our lives we ask Mary to pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. And remember, in staying close to Mary, Jesus' mother, our mother, we will never be far from the kingdom of God.
United Nations Commission on the Status of Women Beijing Platform for Action, March 2,2005
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