"God’s Blessing to Unwed Mothers"
by Most Rev. Dr. Robert M. Bowman, Presiding Bishop, United Catholic Church
Genesis 30: 1-12, 17-24
Isaiah 54: 1, 4-7
Luke 1: 5-7, 11-15, 24-25
I’d like to start by giving you a little background. In 1978, I retired after 22 years in the Air Force, and went into industry. By 1981 I was an executive with a six-figure salary. Then in the middle of 1982 a funny thing happened. I was fired. Officially, I resigned, but the result was the same. I was unemployed. Five of our seven children were in college, and we had a 5200 square foot house in Potomac, Maryland (the Beverly Hills of Washington, DC). We also had a mortgage carrying a 17 1/2% interest rate.
Were we scared? We were petrified. By just about anyone’s standards, this would qualify as a "bad thing."
That event changed our lives. It started a string of events that eventually led us here, to where we are today. How it all happened is less believable than any novel. Maybe one day I’ll try to write it down. But I won’t try to go into it here. What is important is that we became much happier, the whole family grew closer, and we have been able to accomplish things of much greater importance than would have been impossible had I remained a highly-paid aerospace executive.
The point of this is that God can and does bring good out of bad. I have failed at one thing or another countless times in my life. But out of these failures, God manages somehow to fashion victory. It reminds me of Romans, chapter eight: "All things work together for good for those who love the Lord."
God is so powerful, so loving, so merciful that He can even bring good out of our sin. How many times have we done something that God could have just zapped us for! But instead, He chastises us gently, and gives us another chance. Many times, He even turns our rebellion into a blessing.
Look at David and Bathsheba, for example. What they did was sinful. There’s no question about it. David’s murder of Uriah so he could have his wife was particularly reprehensible. And David did not go unpunished. Yet he repented and went on to become a great king, composer of the psalms, and beloved of God. Bathsheba became a great joy and comfort to David. And out of their sinful union, God brought Solomon — a blessing to David and Bathsheba and through his glorious reign to the whole people of Israel.
God brings good out of bad, and blessings out of our sinfulness, if only we turn to him in repentance. It is important to keep this in mind as we look at the readings for this day, the second Sunday of Advent (which we have designated the Feast of the Unwed Mother).
In the reading from Genesis, two sisters — both married to Jacob (son of Isaac and grandson of Abraham) competed with each other in providing children for Jacob (especially sons). Both of them went so far as to have their husband sleep with their servant girls and father children by them. Now, there are still places in the world where such things happen, and where women are considered property and daughters of little value. But in our culture, attitudes toward marriage have changed, as has the position of women. Today, a woman is Secretary of State. This does not mean that all the double standards have been eliminated; far from it. I’m quite sure a woman will be president of the United States long before one is deemed worthy to be assistant pastor of Our Lady of Grace Roman Catholic Church. "You’ve come a long way, baby" often seems to mean little more than you have the right to smoke in public and be just as coarse, competitive, and selfish as men have always been.
Still, we have come a long way since the days of Leah and Rachel (to say nothing of their servant girls). Today a woman has value beyond her ability to bear children. Not that they aren’t still highly valued for that; they are. I honor and treasure Maggie for the seven children she bore and raised. Yet even before our marriage, we had decided that if we were unable to conceive, we would adopt. (Using concubines was not something we ever considered.) (We will have more to say about adoption next week, the Feast of St. Joseph and all adoptive and foster parents.) The point is, I would love and cherish Maggie even if she hadn’t borne children. At the same time, we do look on them as blessings from God, and we are very thankful for them.
The passages from Luke are also about procreation. They relate God’s intervention to bring about the miraculous conceptions of John the Baptist and Jesus in their mothers’ wombs. In the case of John, the miracle was because Elizabeth was an old woman, just like Abraham’s wife, Sarah. In the case of Jesus, the miracle was because Mary was a virgin. But in all these cases, one thing was consistent. Pregnancy was considered a blessing from God. No matter what the circumstance, it was a blessing from God. As the psalm says, "Children are a gift from God, the fruit of the womb, a reward. Blessed are they who have lots of them."
Of course, in this Advent season, it is the birth of Jesus that we prepare to celebrate. And, as we have heard in Luke, Mary was not married when she conceived Jesus. So today, we celebrate Mary and all unwed mothers. Their children, too, are blessings from God.
Now most unwed mothers get that way by having sex outside marriage, and we don’t pretend that that’s a good thing. It robs the child of the benefit of having both a mother and a father to love, shelter, protect, support, teach, and nurture them.
But if conceiving a child outside marriage is wrong for a woman, it is much more so for the man. A father who does not take responsibility for his child does a great injustice to the child and to the mother as well. He has failed God’s command to love. How come we never talk about unwed fathers?
The mother, on the other hand, who accepts God’s gift of life, nurtures it, and brings it into the world has chosen a difficult but wonderful path. Over the years she makes up for her moment of indiscretion a thousandfold with the love and caring she gives her child.
Our society looks down on unwed mothers. Yet listen to Isaiah: "‘Do not be afraid, you will not suffer shame. Do not fear disgrace; you will not be humiliated. For your Maker is your husband — the Lord Almighty is his name — the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer; he is called the God of all the earth. the Lord will call you back as if you were a wife deserted and distressed in spirit — a wife who married young, only to be rejected,’ says your God. ‘For a brief moment I abandoned you, but with deep compassion I will bring you back.’"
God brings good out of bad, blessings out of our sinfulness.
Several years ago, Dan Quayle attacked the fictitious Murphy Brown for becoming an unwed mother. Lecture her for having sex outside marriage, if you will. But once she was pregnant, what was her alternative? Was Mr. Quayle hinting that she should have had an abortion?
In this Advent season, the whole church celebrates the courage of Mary in accepting the scorn and ridicule and hostility and snide remarks that were sure to come her way (and did). In the same way, we here today celebrate the courage of all unwed mothers who choose life, who accept the sacrifices which accompany God’s blessing, and who are willing to love and to give as single parents. May at least some of them find a St. Joseph to ease the burden.
Let us pray.
Lord, we thank you for the wondrous way you have designed mothers, building in a little of your nurturing spirit. We thank you for the blessings of pregnancy and childbirth, for the privilege of sharing in your creation. With Abraham and Sarah, with Zechariah and Elizabeth, with Jacob and Rachel, with David and Bathsheba, and with Joseph and Mary, we thank you for the enormous and sometimes miraculous gift of life. We thank you for single mothers willing to choose life. We thank you for turning their adversity into blessing. We pray that you send your mercy and grace and strength to every single mother and every pregnant girl. And we ask that you convict those unwed fathers of their sin. Bring them to repentance and help them face their responsibilities.
Finally, Lord, we thank you for Mary, the mother of our savior. Through her courage, her faith, her acceptance, and her motherhood, you have blessed us all.