Do you ever wonder how Mary's parents responded in the beginning? Do you ever wonder what those who were close to her thought? ….
The birth narrative tells us that [Joseph's] first response was to end their betrothal. Keep in mind that in accord with Jewish custom at the time, Mary and Joseph were not yet fully married when she became pregnant. They did not yet live together. Yet because they were betrothed, in accord with Jewish law, her pregnancy made her an adulteress. Nevertheless, Joseph listened to a call that came to him and he took care of her anyway. And because he did, something wonderful happened.
Most of the time, in the context of the lives of the families whom I have served in various parishes a new pregnancy is a source of joy and celebration. I get little cards and e-mails announcing the coming birth. Parents show up bright-eyed and excited for baptism classes. They shop dreamily for baby items as they prepare to bring a new life into this world. Most of the time that is the way it is. Most of the time it is something wonderful. But there are times when it is not that way at all. Let me give you a few examples.
Her name was Anne. She was a bright attractive graduate student. She was living with a guy from another country. He was from a prominent family in his homeland. When she became pregnant he gave her no choice. She would have to abort the child. He would not marry her because she was pregnant. That would be a source of shame to his family. When she refused, he walked out on her leaving her alone and with nothing.
Her name was Alicia. She was from Central America. She was eighteen years old and a widow. Her husband died of an infection he had picked up as they walked from their home country across Mexico to the United States. She carried his child. She was in this country illegally. She had no means of support. She had AIDS.
Her name was Loren. She had been married for several years to a man she had known since high school. He made a decent living and they got along well. That is until she became pregnant with their first child. Then he started beating her. That is not so unusual. That is often when a pattern of spousal abuse begins.
Her name was Jennifer. She was a typical teenager, active in school and in her church. Her parents were both professionals and well respected in the community. She had a lot to which she could look forward. Then she became pregnant. Her family's first response was anger. They worked through that but they continued to feel a strong sense of shame. If the members of their church found out, if their friends found out, they would be viewed as failures. Abortion seemed to be the best option, because of what people might think. After all Jennifer was a teen-age unwed mother. Such things did not happen in their neighborhood.
These examples are among the many that are typical of those who find their way to the Gabriel Project. It was fortunate that these four mothers did. Some came through referral, others through reading about it somewhere, others because they saw the sign in front of a church and found the courage to call the phone number. All of them came with none of the joy and excitement that others feel at the prospect of a new child. They came in fear. They feared how we might react. Would they find acceptance or would we shame them because of the choices they had made or the situations they were in? They came in fear, as well, of the future. How could they go on with a child in the context of lives that had fallen apart? Yet still they came and that was the most important thing of all and the Gabriel Project was there to help them. Just as Joseph did, those who serve in the Gabriel Project answer a call to help women who need kindness and support.
The Gabriel Project, for those here who are not aware of it, is a church based ministry to women in crisis pregnancy. It is a ministry of love, compassion and support. It does not judge. It does not shame. It does not condemn. It places no pre-conditions on helping. It simply recognizes that many women for many reasons find themselves in situations in which abortion may seem to be their only option or among their few options. Through acceptance of those women as they are and through offering them compassion and friendship we try to help them to find more options. We endeavor to help them to deal with those issues that have made pregnancy a crisis in their lives. We dedicate ourselves to helping them to find the dignity they merit and the possibility for a better future for themselves and for their children.
There are those who say that abortion will go away if we just enact the proper laws. … [T]he effort to end abortion has to be far more than legislative. It has to move to a different level. It has to move to the question of how can we change minds; and hearts and some of the structures of our communities so that when a woman in a difficult situation becomes pregnant it need not be a crisis that she must face alone. It has to move to a question beyond how can we make it more possible for babies to be born. It has to move to a question of how we can build a society in which a child, it's mother and all her family can live with dignity and hope.
All of us want and need compassion, acceptance and love in our lives. The four mothers I described had been denied those things. It is true that some of the reasons for that resulted from bad choices. In other cases it was because of bad situations. Most of the mothers who come to us have been through bad choices or bad situations. Many of them found others holding those things up to them and shaming them because of where they have been or what they had done. Fortunately the Gabriel Project does not do that. Instead it recognizes the truth of what Pres. Theodore Roosevelt once wrote to his friend the poet Edwin Arlington Robinson. In reflecting on difficulties in his life and ultimately in the lives of us all he wrote, "From time to time the devil is the master of us all. It is not having been in the dark house that matters. What matters is having come out of it."
When a mother in crisis pregnancy comes to the Gabriel Project and asks for help she presents herself as she is. She stands as she is in the doorway of the dark house that makes her pregnancy a crisis. It is a place where many women have stood for many reasons. Unfortunately for many what they have seen as they looked out into the world has been only continued darkness. The Gabriel Project however, stands outside that door holding a light. It is the light of acceptance, understanding, compassion and love. It is a light of invitation to come out of the dark place and to come with us forward to something better. It is a fight of promise that through our willingness simply to offer love and support to one another not only can a child be born but a mother can once more find the means to dignity and hope.
In the end, the Gabriel Project helps us to understand as individuals and as communities that our attitude must be that of Christ, who while he came to us in the form of God did not deem equality with God something to be grasped at. Rather he emptied himself and took the form of a servant to us all. Abortion will not go away through legislation alone. It will go away only when we build a society in which all people of good will imitate Christ in this way for everyone. In the Gabriel Project we have, in faith communities, people of good will who are doing that. They are emptying themselves as simple gift to those who need them and they are giving birth not just to children but to greater life and love of the sort that can change the world.
By the way, of the four women whom I described, under fictitious names of course, three are doing well. Two of them are assisting in Gabriel Projects in their new faith communities. Two of them kept their babies. Two gave them up for adoption by families who could provide for their children better homes. Three have gone on with their lives in greater hope and dignity. With the support of the friends they found in the Gabriel Project they were able to find new options and choices that are helping them to build better lives. One, for various reasons, has gone back to the dark house. Unfortunately the world from which she came filled her too full of fear to allow her to really trust that things could be better for her.
That is the way it is. It is not always successful. It is just successful most of the time as women in crisis and we find that love and compassion are far more powerful and effective in changing lives and giving hope than anything else we can ever offer to one another. Perhaps as we continue to expand the Gabriel Project, perhaps as we grow in our willingness like Joseph to trust in God's call to serve others in a spirit of self-emptying compassion and love, the one who was lost and so many more like her may find the means to trust in that as well. When that day comes we will all be blessed for we will be living in a world in which life and the love of Jesus, who made himself servant to all, prevail.