March 28, 2008

A woman’s greatest treasures are the love and life she gives, speakers say

By Mary Ann Wyand

Erika Bachiochi focused on how true feminism requires self-sacrifice and the gift of love.

Patricia Pitkus Bainbridge emphasized the importance of praying for God’s help to build a society dedicated to life.

The two Catholic women made those points during their keynote addresses at the fifth annual “Treasuring Womanhood” Indiana Catholic Women’s Conference on March 15 at the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis. Here is a glimpse into each of their talks.

True feminism requires self-sacrifice

Erika BachiochiMen and women exist most fully when they give of themselves to others in unselfish love, said Erika Bachiochi, a Catholic author, lawyer, theologian and stay-at-home mother of four children who lives in the Boston area.

“Freedom is not found in self-assertion or independence from the needs of others as the secular world would have it,” she said, “but in communion with others through our giving of ourselves to them in love.”

This year, Bachiochi said, the Church marks the 20th anniversary of the release of Pope John Paul II’s encyclical on “The Dignity and Vocation of Women.”

She said scholars of the late pope’s work believe that his teachings about the special roles of women in the family and in society were inspired by his admiration for St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, the former Edith Stein, a scholarly Jew who became a Catholic nun then was martyred in the Holocaust.

Bachiochi said St. Teresa Benedicta believed that “women’s souls were spiritually distinct from those of men and that the physical, bodily differences between men and women fundamentally shape the way we understand and relate to the world in which we live.”

Both the pope and saint believed that the differences between men and women are complementary rather than hierarchical, she said, because God created both man and woman in his image and they are equal in dignity.

“The late pope also believed that the very fact that God created human beings as gendered—that is, male and female—has significance for how we are to live out our Christian vocation to love,” Bachiochi explained. “These sexual differences should then be neither ignored nor denied because they are part of God’s beautiful creation. They should instead be understood and celebrated.”

After the fall, when man and woman turned away from God to seek their own ends and desires, she said, this brought about male domination of women and discord between the sexes.

“Desire and domination took the place of self-gift and love,” Bachiochi said. “Men and women must follow the way of life that Christ has laid out for us, a life of prayerful and self-sacrificial love. Turning toward God and giving selflessly of oneself can bring about that communion of persons that restores genuine harmony and authentic love. The way of Christ is always the way of love.”

She said Pope John Paul also taught that “the key to woman’s distinct dignity is the unique capacity that God has given her to carry within her a new person of infinite and eternal value.”

A wife and mother “hopes that her family will come to imitate her prayer-filled gift of self,” Bachiochi said, “and in so doing make their own holy mark upon a world that is much in need of such self-sacrificial love.”

Pro-life warrior, pro-woman advocate

Patricia Pitkus BainbridgePatricia Pitkus Bainbridge is a pro-life warrior and advocate for women. She is horrified by legalized abortion—which has killed more than 51 million unborn babies in the United States alone since 1973—and wants others to share her ­outrage.

Bainbridge directs the Respect Life Office in the Diocese of Rockford, Ill., and is co-founder and executive director emeritus of Life Decisions International. She is also chairperson of the board of directors of Human Life International, the largest pro-life, pro-family and pro-woman organization in the world.

She said she gains strength for her tireless pro-life work from her faith in God and her devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe, patroness of the Americas and unborn babies.

Bainbridge unflinchingly talks about the “stench” outside abortion mills from bodies of aborted babies in dumpsters.

“In this country, abortion is perfectly legal any time during pregnancy for little or no reason,” she said, “and close to 4,000 tiny humans are killed every day.”

Also shocking are the findings of a new study released in March, Bainbridge said, which reports that “the Roman Catholic Church consistently teaches that sex before marriage, abortion, pornography and homosexual activity are sins, yet as many as half of all practicing Catholics do not personally define each of these as sinful.”

She said, “It is diabolical that many Catholics, including some in religious orders and a few priests, call themselves pro-choice. Others who call themselves pro-life stand idly by and do nothing. People from both groups cast votes for politicians who advocate child sacrifice through abortion and see nothing wrong with it, choosing to be loyal to their political party instead of loyal to the Church.”

An estimated 15 million abortions are committed worldwide each year, she said, with 1.3 million abortions in the U.S.

“The truth and meaning of human sexuality have been rejected,” Bainbridge said. “Large families are no longer seen as the blessings that they are. Every child should be welcomed as a blessing.”

Assaults against the sanctity and dignity of the human person are accepted as part of our contemporary culture of death, she said. “People must accept the call to conversion, stand for the truth and ­meaning of human sexuality, and work to get evil sex education removed from the schools.”

Married couples must abandon artificial contraception and embrace Natural Family Planning when they have a serious reason to avoid a pregnancy, she said, and individuals and nations must reject abortion as the evil that it is.

“I will never understand how in this country you can go to jail for mistreating an animal,” she said, “but you can pay to have an abortionist legally kill a baby up to the moment of birth.”

Courts are ordering that feeding tubes are to be pulled from cognitively impaired individuals, she said, so they will not become a burden on relatives and society.

Never forget that it is sinful to advocate the deaths of the most vulnerable among us, she said. We have to pray for God’s help in building a culture of life in society, Bainbridge said.

“We have to be open to what we believe God would have us do and then we have to do it. … We all share the responsibility to do something.” †

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