1/11/2018 9:00:00 AM REFLECTION Supporting women in crisis
BY DEACON WALTER C. AYRES
(Editor's note: Deacon Ayres is parish life coordinator at Sacred Heart of Jesus parish in Albany, deacon at St. Mary's parish in Albany and director of the diocesan Commission on Peace and Justice.)
Nov. 19, 2017, was the first World Day for the Poor. Pope Francis proclaimed this special day for the Church, calling on us to make, in his words, "every effort to create moments of encounter and friendship, solidarity and concrete assistance."
We have done that successfully in distributing baskets of food to families in need. That is one kind of poverty: a lack of material things, a lack of money. But there are other kinds of poverty, as well.
One of them is alluded to in the Scripture reading about the worthy wife (Prv 31:10-13,19-20,30-31). We are told that her value is beyond pearls and that she is an unfailing prize. She should receive a reward for her labors, we are told. Her works will praise her at the city gates.
These are all worthy thoughts -- but they neglect the poverty faced by women of that time. This reading comes at the end of the Book of Proverbs and epitomizes the entire wisdom of the book; but it's a picture of women in theory, not in practice.
Despite the high-sounding words, women at that time were viewed as property. For women outside the elite family described to us, they had little value outside of what they could provide for a husband. If the husband died, the widow often had no one to protect her or care for her.
Women were poor in material things, but were also poor in power. Many still are today, even if they are rich in terms of money. We need only look at the news to see what this means.
Women of all social classes have been reporting cases of mistreatment by men: businessmen or politicians, bosses or coworkers. Such mistreatment has been so widespread that there is now even a special hashtag for it on social media: #MeToo.
As I look at Facebook and Twitter, I find women who are friends, relatives, acquaintances and strangers sharing stories of harassment and even assault. Perhaps you have seen them, as well. Perhaps you have told them.
A common thread connects many of these stories: power. Power that men have and women feel that they do not. Men who feel they will be believed when they deny the charges and women who feel they will not be believed when they make them.
To be clear, not every charge is true, and people are presumed innocent until proven guilty. Yet, women face many hurdles on speaking out.
One female Catholic blogger I follow wrote about why women are reluctant to report cases of misbehavior: The woman will be accused of lying if she is the only person to report such behavior; but, if she is one of many to make such a report, she will be accused of lying as part of an orchestrated effort to damage someone's reputation.
If she files a civil lawsuit, she is accused of only doing it for the money. If she does not file a civil lawsuit, she is accused of lacking evidence to support her allegations.
It seems that whatever women choose to do, they lose. What are we to do?
For one thing, we can look to the spiritual works of mercy. They have long been a part of Christian tradition and can guide us in helping our neighbors in their spiritual needs.
One such work is to comfort the afflicted. We can listen to the stories that are told by women who have been mistreated. We can do so without being judgmental or critical or blaming the victim. Even if we are not sure of the right words to say, our mere presence can be a comfort.
We can also instruct the ignorant. "Ignorant" is a word with many meanings. It can mean rude or dumb, but it can also mean unlearned or unaware.
With that in mind, we can tell men to stop misbehaving. We can teach boys how to act properly when they are with girls. We can tell women that they have every right to speak out when they are mistreated.
We are living in a time that theologians describe as a "kairos" moment. Kairos is a Greek word signifying a proper or opportune time for action. It calls for deep discernment, bold action and a renewal of the heart.
As we look back on the first World Day for the Poor and forward to the next one, let us commit ourselves to all women who feel their poverty is a poverty of power, a lack of support for their right to be treated with dignity and fairness.
To repeat the words Pope Francis used when announcing this day for the poor, let us make "every effort to create moments of encounter and friendship, solidarity and concrete assistance."
Let us pray that all women will be treated like the woman in the Scripture reading I mentioned: with respect.