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The Role of Women in Building a Culture of Life

WASHINGTON, D.C., OCT. 23, 2003 (Zenit) - Denver's Archbishop Charles Chaput gave this address on the role of women in building a culture of life. His remarks delivered Sunday were the Centennial Lecture of the Catholic Daughters of the Americas, at the Catholic University of America.


World, Work and Family: The Role of Women in Building a Culture of Life

Archbishop Charles Chaput

I want to talk about women today. So naturally I'm going to start by talking about men -- not because they're more important than women, but because they're not.

Back in June I had the pleasure of viewing an early version of Mel Gibson's new movie, "The Passion of Christ." It's really a wonderful film. I hope all of you will see it and bring others to see it -- although I need to warn you that it's not for young children. It's too real and too violent.

But it's also very moving. I saw it with five other men, just a small group in a small room. When the movie ended, it took at least a minute for anybody to say anything. The emotions were so strong that none of us could come up with the right words.

Now as a bishop, I talk about Jesus a lot, so I began to wonder why this one film had affected me so deeply. I began to notice that other men who saw the film had the same experience. I've known a lot of faithful Catholic men in my life. But I know a lot more who don't know how to articulate their faith, and many others who simply delegate the "religion thing" off to their wives and daughters. "The Passion of Christ" does something unusual to men. Some can't get the film out of their head for weeks after seeing it. And now I think I know why. There are two reasons.

A lot of us grow up with a mental picture of Jesus that's really very strange. It doesn't correspond to his reality at all. Some of us tend to imagine Jesus as either an unearthly miracle-maker or a vaguely effeminate holy man. We don't know how to resolve who Christ is. We believe that Jesus is fully God and fully man. We say that publicly at every Sunday Mass in the Creed. But we have nothing to look at to help us see what that means.

I think one reason men remember "The Passion of Christ" is because Jim Caviezel -- who gives just an astonishing performance -- shows us Jesus as someone who is absolutely real, both in the divinity of his person, and in the humanity of his nature, friendships and suffering. And that manliness of Jesus, that heroism, is something men can respect and love and want to follow.

But of course, manliness and heroism don't exist in a vacuum. They're shaped by many things, but especially by examples of courage. They're formed by a daily, intimate experience of love, with all the little moments of joy and sorrow, teasing, correction and encouragement that are part of real life. And that's the second reason why men remember "The Passion of Christ." Not every man has a wife or sisters, but almost every man has the memory of his mother's unconditional love. Every man knows in his heart that the best of what he is comes through his parents, and especially from his mother. And what Maya Morgenstern shows us so movingly as Mary in "The Passion of Christ" is how the love of a mother touched the life of Jesus Christ. Jesus shared exactly the same moments of maternal tenderness and humor that every son thrives on.

In our piety sometimes we tend to think of Mary as a "means to an end," the vehicle God used to bring his son into the world. But God chose Mary not to "use" her like an instrument, but because he loved her. He saw in her the beauty and character of a woman who would freely and lovingly shape his son into the man he needed to be. We can't understand Jesus outside the love of his mother, any more than we can understand ourselves outside the experience of our families.

When we listen to the Sermon of Jesus on the Mount -- "Blessed are you who are poor; the kingdom of God is yours" (Luke 6:20) -- we're also hearing Mary: "My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my savior ... [for] he has lifted up the lowly; the hungry he has filled with good things, while the rich he has sent away empty" (Luke 1:46-47, 52-53). Out of the faith and the flesh of Mary, the woman, God fashions the Redeemer of the world. Without Mary, there is no story of redemption. Without Mary, the woman of faith, there is no Jesus, the Son of God.

Over the last few months, I've wondered many times why a film like "The Passion of Christ" would trigger so much controversy even before it gets to the theaters. Maybe you've heard about it in the media. One allegation against the film is anti-Semitism, which is a very serious sin. The Jewish community has good reason to always be alert for it. As Catholics, we need to understand and respect that concern. And we need ...

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