A FRESH RAY OF HOPE at the Crossroads in South Bend Indiana
This past week, overshadowed by controversy and adversity, apart from the arrests and protests, unshaken by President Obama’s arrival to South Bend, Indiana, and approximately a mile away from the center of Notre Dame University, a fresh ray of hope made its way to shine upon the community from higher ground. At the crossroads of North Hill Street and East LaSalle Avenue, an unusual image, a fully and visibly pregnant Mother Mary is literally “showing” life. Presented on a billboard in the vicinity of St. Joseph’s Regional Medical Center, Jesus, as an unborn child, is portrayed under the protection of his mother’s mantle. In its message, Mary Full of Life appears to bear the weight of humanity into the world and to bring new life.
In 2004, Valerie Aschbacher, a Catholic woman in Portland, Oregon, commissioned a sculpture through an anonymous artist, requesting an image of the Blessed Virgin Mary to be “barely showing”. The intended purpose of this artwork was to reproduce and sell it, as a way to raise funds for starting a charitable, nonprofit organization.
As the process evolved, it became clearer that the emerging image had a distinctly different mission, which was not, after all, to be barely showing, but rather to be quite apparently “with child”. With each new development, Mary Full of Life proved to have a life of its own. When Aschbacher began researching the thousands of titles and works of Mary throughout the centuries, she discovered, Mary Full of Life was undoubtedly special and she began to pursue copyright protection for the works. Over 250 photos, taken by a professional photographer, uniquely captured the cleverly crafted piece of art, which seems to be full of life from every angle. An inspired prayer, patterned after the Hail Mary, accompanies the image. The collected works are culminated into a website where visitors can engage in a virtual, spiritual experience - www.maryfulloflife.org
The expectant mother, Mary Full of Life first appeared November 13th, 2008, on a similar billboard, atop the city landscape, against a dark backdrop, among the poor and lost souls of Portland, Oregon. From that single billboard, the message of its mission continues to make its way around the globe, with daily visitors to the website in places where it might be least expected – such as China, Myanmar, Netherlands, Sweden, Australia, Indonesia, Belgium, Chile, Ivory Coast, as well as across the United States.
When several individuals from around the nation, including Jeanette O’Toole of Elmhurst, Illinois expressed an interest in having a similar billboard displayed in South Bend, Indiana, Valerie Aschbacher agreed to pursue it with a local advertising company. Donors from around the country helped to defray the costs. Now, for at least a month, it will stand, larger than life, and speak for itself, with the hopes of furthering its mission - to unite humankind to uphold the sacredness of human life.
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I must confess that I have been thinking very uncharitable thoughts about many members of the Congregation of Holy Cross, who run the University of Notre Dame. I was aware that some members of the congregation had publicly dissociated themselves from the university's decision to invite the militantly pro-abortion President Obama and to gove him an honorary doctorate.
Fr Wilson Miscamble CSC, an Australian who teaches at Notre Dame, spoke at the alternative ceremony held in another part of the campus while Mr Obama was speaking. Thsi must have been very painful for him as he was publicly criticising some of his own confreres but not out of spite or anger, but in order to proclaim the truth of the Gospel and the integrity of the mission of the Congregation of Holy Cross.
Though the University of Notre Dame was founded by French missionaries of the Congregation of Holy Cross, it has acquired the nickname of 'The Fighting Irish', especially in the context of the American gridiron game which Americans, for some strange reason, call 'football'. Archbishop Charles Chaput OFMCap of Denver, Colorado, has no Irish blood, though he has visited that blessed land. His paternal ancestors are of French-Canadian background and he is part Native American on his mother's side. But in his comments on the award to Mr Obama he could match any 'Fighting Irishman', though in a charitable way.
For too long, perhaps, we've had too much of a distorted Jesus 'meek and mild' and a total absence of the Jesus who called some persons 'a brood of vipers' and who overthrew the tables of the money-changers in the Temple.
One sign that President Obama may be listening to what some are saying is this brief extract from his Notre Dame speech: Let’s honor the conscience of those who disagree with abortion, and draft a sensible conscience clause, and make sure that all of our health care policies are grounded in clear ethics and sound science, as well as respect for the equality of women.
Maybe he's pulling back from his previous position of wanting to deny medical personnel the right to follow their consciences and refuse to be involved in abortions.
I think too that Judge John Noonan, the stand-in speaker for Dr Mary Ann Glendon who turned down the Laetare Medal because she judged she was being used by the university in the context of the honorayr doctorate to the pro-abortion Mr Obama, spoke clearly, in a kind of 'Vaticanese' with an American accent. He very clearly implied, to me at least, that one day Americans, and others, would see clearly that abortion is wrong just as most of us see clearly today that slavery is wrong, that torture is wrong.
This whole episode has been shabby, not only a failure to preach the Gospel and to defend basic human rights, but an open defiance of the Gospel, an insult to Our Lady in the university that carries her name, an insult to Jesus who died on the Cross by a university run by the Congregation of Holy Cross. But all is not lost.