Have Mercy On Me, Oh God

April 17, 2014

It's Holy Week. Do you know what that means?  You've made it through almost 40 days of sacrifice and penitence!  Whew.  Easter is right around the corner!  But before we bust out the red wine and mini eggs, we must once again experience the passion and death of Christ, beginning with Holy Thursday.  So much could be said about the next few days, but they are primarily a time for harmonious silence and introspection.  A time for each of us to reflect deeply on the great significance of the actions of a carpenter's son from Nazareth 2000 years ago.

So I will leave you with this rendition of Psalm 51.
It's hauntingly beautiful.  




1 Have mercy on me, O God,
    
according to your unfailing love;

according to your great compassion
    
blot out my transgressions.

2 Wash away all my iniquity
    
and cleanse me from my sin.

3 For I know my transgressions,
    
and my sin is always before me.

4 Against you, you only, have I sinned
    
and done what is evil in your sight;

so you are right in your verdict
    
and justified when you judge.

5 Surely I was sinful at birth,
    
sinful from the time my mother conceived me.

6 Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb;
    
you taught me wisdom in that secret place.

7 Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
    
wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.

8 Let me hear joy and gladness;
    
let the bones you have crushed rejoice.

9 Hide your face from my sins
    
and blot out all my iniquity.

10 Create in me a pure heart, O God,
    
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.

11 Do not cast me from your presence
    
or take your Holy Spirit from me.

12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation
    
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
    
so that sinners will turn back to you.

14 Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God,
    
you who are God my Savior,
    
and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.

15 Open my lips, Lord,
    
and my mouth will declare your praise.

16 You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
    
you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.

17 My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit;
    
a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.

18 May it please you to prosper Zion,
    
to build up the walls of Jerusalem.

19 Then you will delight in the sacrifices of the righteous,
    
in burnt offerings offered whole;
    
then bulls will be offered on your altar.

Watch and wait

April 15, 2014


Daughters of Jerusalem, women of God, let us watch and wait with our Lord this Holy Week, so that we may be the first to know and share the Good News of Easter Sunday.


 Triptych Hans Memling

[Jesus dies on the Cross] There were many women there, looking on from a distance, who had followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to him. Among them were Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.  (Matt. 27: 55:56)

[Our Lord is placed in the tomb] But Mary Magdalene and the other Mary remained sitting there, facing the tomb. (Matt. 27:61)

After the Sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb. […] then the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid! I know that you are seeking Jesus the crucified. He is not here, for he has been raised just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell the disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead.’ […] And behold, Jesus met them on their way and greeted them. They approached, embraced his feet, and did him homage.  (Matt. 28: 1-10)

Resurrection of Christ
Fra Angelico

ReGift : Trusting your instincts

April 10, 2014


In ‘A Landscape with dragons’, Michael O’Brien writes about children knowing whether something (or someone) is good or bad.  Their little souls are still sensitive, whereas we adults have taught ourselves to disregard that awareness.  Perhaps the world or our busyness drowns out the voice of our guardian angel who is prompting us to steer clear of a certain person, to turn off a particular movie, or to not try to drive home in a heavy snow storm. 

O`Brien advises parents to not scoff when children talk about monsters under the bed, because doing so teaches them to distrust their own discernment.  Good discernment is so important in living a Godly life.  Just as our conscience must be formed, our morality developed, our code of ethics established, so our ability to discern needs to grow in strength and maturity.

That discernment is a gift we all have, men and women both. There is a lot of emphasis on `women`s intuition` but men have it, too.  The inherent differences between men and women means the gift is expressed in different ways, but the common purpose of instinct is preservation – safety from spiritual and physical harm. 

I think women are inclined to trust the promptings of their instinct.  For example, a mother is fierce in the protection of her children and ensuring the integrity of the home. What keeps us back from being fierce all the time, is the need to also be nice, to not upset other people, we want to offer help when
we can see it is needed. It is the struggle between being kind and being safe that sometimes leads women into danger. We`ve all heard stories of assaults and abductions and think that could never happen to us, in this country, in our neighbourhood.  And yet it does.  It happens not because women are smaller, slower, weaker, or dumber, but because we sometimes ignore that little voice that tells us to look after ourselves first.  If we are reacting on behalf of our children – or anyone else who is relying on us – we will respond appropriately.  But we hesitate when it is comes to ourselves.

I have an illustration.  Years ago I shared an apartment.  It was in a well-maintained, respectable building so we had no concerns about safety.  One afternoon while home alone, I was wakened from a nap by strange sounds coming from the door to our apartment.  Then I heard voices, and I realized someone had been fumbling with the lock and was now in our hallway.  Totally confused by the situation and having just been in a deep sleep, I stumbled into the living room, unsure of what to do or say to the two men now standing in my home with a case of beer tucked under an arm of each of them.  I said something along the lines of, ``Umm... what?” I didn’t want to offend them, but I was also afraid to go near them.  Though I knew I had every right to insist they leave, I was almost afraid to offend them - if I were British I might have offered them tea.  With as much polite insistence and I could muster, I asked them to leave.  Turns out they were visiting a buddy in the building who was getting married the next day, and they simply went to the wrong apartment.

Contrast that with the time I was looking after my five nephews in their home.  We were going through their bedtime routine, when I heard a knock at the door.  I ignored it as we weren’t expecting anyone, it was late, and I don’t like to answer the door when I’m home alone.  The next thing I heard was the door opening and heavy boots stepping into the front hall!  A voice called out, “Hello” but I was already half way up the stairs, yelling, “Get out!  Get out!  Get out!”  I charged into the hallway, hands out in front of me, and pushed the man out the door and down the porch steps while shrieking at him to get out of the house. I didn’t give a thought to how he was feeling or what he thought of me. Poor man... he turned out to be the landlord come to repair something.  Once I realized who he was I stopped yelling at him, but I took him to task for not phoning ahead, and for just walking into our house. I must have got through to him because he always kept a safe distance from me after that. 

Icon of St. Michael the Archangel
by Michael O'Brien
Before that incident, and based on what had happened earlier in my apartment, I used to wonder how I would protect the boys if something like that ever happened.  Instinct kicked in and I didn’t question it for a second.  When it came to protecting myself, though, I hesitated because I wasn’t sure I was justified in reacting the way I wanted to.

It is so important we listen to that voice, whether it is our guardian angel, or our God-given instinct. Scripture tells us to get rid of our eye if it causes us to sin.  We must choose our friends wisely, avoid scandalous activities, not partake of blasphemous entertainment etc.  How can we do all of that if we no longer trust our own discernment?

Women in the Military

April 9, 2014



Have you noticed that there are an alarming number of combative females on television these days?  I’m not necessarily talking about women who are angry at everything besides baby kittens and goldfish, but rather women who play “tough-guy” characters.  The men are the calm writers or the slackers who need protection, while it’s the women who are getting their butts kicked by the bad guys, running headfirst into burning buildings and calling their female supervisors, “sir”.  The trend has been growing since before Uma Thurman “Killed Bill”, but it’s alarming to me that our society is normalizing (and glorifying) women in physically dangerous roles.  Doesn’t it bother you, I asked my husband once, to watch a female get walloped by a male?  Or to watch two women swinging punches at each other?  He thought for a minute and said, “yes, but I tell myself they’re fighting the bad guy and that makes me feel better about it.” 

Not me.  I wince.  Every.  Single. Time.  There’s something about watching a woman in a violent fist fight that just grates against everything I hold as good, true and beautiful.  Something in it just isn’t right and I’m not exactly sure what it is. 

There is hot debate that’s been raging for some years now – whether or not women should be accepted into physically dangerous, violent careers – like military combat forces - and it’s increasingly being won by the “pro” side.  Women have been battling, in the name of equality, to be treated as men and our society is responding.  If we women, in fact, are the same as men then what excuse do we have but to actually start doing what men have always traditionally done?  So now that we open doors for ourselves and have ceased ascribing to the “evil patriarchy” for our self-worth, we de facto must take on careers like wrestling, boxing, firefighting, and hard-core military combat careers.  Now that we’re “equal” we are obligated to fight hard, just like men.  Right?   

Fulton Sheen had a different idea.  First of all, men and women are equal – but proportionally so, not mathematically.  In his book entitle “Love, Marriage and Children” he said,

“The catchword became “equality,” which meant roughly: “Anything you can do I can do better.” Equality meant uniformity, or exactly the same amount of everything for everybody.  It was forgotten that there are two kinds of equality: mathematical and proportional equality.  For example, a mother does not give the same clothes, same food, same spending money to a son of two that she gives to a sixteen year old girl; but as a good mother, she gives proportional equality, according to age, needs, and physical and spiritual differences.”

Men and women are equal in dignity and value as human persons, yet about as different as a two-year-old son is from a sixteen year old daughter.  We not only don’t do the same jobs in exactly the same way, we shouldn’t.   Why would we? Men have one set of gifts.  Women have another set – which I don’t believe (generally) include really big muscles.  Although I am certain that some women enjoy bodybuilding and strength training and could best a good number of opponents, man or woman, anytime they felt like it, but they’re the exceptions.  I’m not convinced that generally speaking women are the best candidates for hard-core, physically demanding careers – especially where the military is concerned. 

A local radio station often plays a commercial where the announcer states: “At  -- FM we believe that you are only limited by your imagination.  And your time.  And your ability.  And your money.”  He goes off to list a few more things by which we’re all limited and I laugh every time I hear it.  We (both men and women) like to think that we are limitless in our abilities; that we can do anything of which we can conceive the moment we think of it.  It’s even what we like to tell our kids, but I think the concept is just stupid.  If I’m 4 foot 1 and clumsy I will find it extremely difficult to be a ballet dancer.  Sure I could do everything in my power to achieve the goal of being a ballet dancer but it’s very likely I will never be as good as those who’ve been given the ballet dancer’s tall, willowy genes.  Even if I achieve an acceptable level of ability by working triple-hard, it’s still very likely that I won’t ever come close to obtaining the ability of those who have an in-born talent.  That’s life.

This is how I see women in combat positions.  Our bodies and spirits weren’t made for that type of thing and no matter how much we’d like to, we cannot force our genetic makeup to change.  While women generally have better endurance than men, men generally have more skeletal muscle mass than women, which typically makes them physically stronger.  On a good day, could the strongest woman in any given group best the strongest man?  Maybe.  But highly doubtful.  No matter how much weight and strength training they undergo, women cannot make themselves grow more muscle mass to equal men’s.  In addition, many women experience extreme muscle weakness in the days leading up to menstruation – some say they lose up to half their physical strength.  Women cannot force their bodies to be as consistently strong as men, which is decidedly not an asset when innocent human lives are on the line. 

But even beyond certain physical differences between men and women, combative careers require women to expunge from themselves that which many would consider their greatest asset: their emotions and relational sensibilities.  Military women must cut ties with their children for months on end while deployed.  And it’s not hard to see why those in combat must keep all emotions in check.  Horrible things are done and experienced in times of war – and men are able to compartmentalize the horrors a little bit better than women.  Of course I’m generalizing.  There will likely be an exceptional person to disprove every rule, but generally speaking, this is true.

So what now?  Should all women be pigeonholed into a small list of “feminine” occupations like they have been in the past; careers like nanny, tea-pourer or dressmaker? I don’t think so.  Rather I think all women must identify their gifts and strengths, and give what they’ve got, not what they haven’t got.  Most women aren’t suited to military combat and wrestling in the same way that most men aren’t suited to synchronized swimming or feminine hygiene product tester.  Does that make either any less of a person – because they have talents in one area over another?  No.  Emphatically no.  Yet I think the current thought is that because women generally aren’t suited to combat, that they are somehow “less than”, “inferior” or “weak”. 

What a silly notion - but I understand why it’s a pervading thought.  In her book The Privilege of Being a Woman, Alice von Hildebrand said:

“The hierarchy of values being upset [at the Fall], male accomplishments became overvalued.  Physical strength became glorified and weakness was looked down upon as proof of inferiority.  ..Hand in hand with the overestimation of strength and virility goes an overestimation of accomplishments, feats, performances, success.  In our society to be a “self-made man” calls for awe.  A Bill Gates, an Oprah Winfrey, or even a Bill Clinton inspires people with a totally illegitimate feeling of admiration.”

We’ve come to believe, since the Fall, that only certain gifts and talents are highly valued: strength, virility, prowess, being “self-made” or powerful – the noticeably shining “virtues” of our modern world.  Those who cannot acquire those “virtues” – or have different or opposite abilities to those specified - are substandard, lesser human beings.  What about humility?  Charity?  Loyalty, compassion and obedience?  They’re real virtues that our world can’t stand. To the modern, untrained eye, humility and grace look shabby and dull next to novelty and dazzling pride. 

Yet choosing to do something that may be well beyond the limits of our physical, mental or psychological strength, merely because we believe that doing so is the only way to be valued, is a suicide of sorts.  We put to death an important part of our very selves (ie. our femininity) in order to meet the requirements of “the job” and in the process utterly discount our value and worth as a woman - as ourselves.  Perhaps this is why I find it so jarring to see women being physically violent on tv, because I instinctively feel that they are setting something truly authentic aside for something counterfeit.  Or perhaps it’s simply because I know that most women wouldn’t stand a chance in a fight against the average man.  It’s not a fair fight, no matter how much some would try to convince you otherwise. 

So why does it matter that women are accepted as “tough guys”, able to best any man, woman or child that walks through the door?   I honestly don’t know because women, within themselves, ARE tough.  They are fierce – just not in the way society thinks they should be, that is, in the way that men are fierce.   They may not break your neck with their bare hands, but threaten their loved ones and you’ll wish you’d never been born.  Women are highly intuitive – they will be able to ascertain important facts about situations that many wouldn’t figure out in a million years. Most women have the ability to multi-task: doing 18 things with one hand while pouring a glass of wine and sending 5 emails with the other.  They have a deep wellspring of strength and a supernatural ability to sacrifice themselves that puts many a man to shame.  And best of all, women are able to shelter, nourish and grow new life within themselves: a gift that is a privilege and an honour to possess.  All of this isn’t to brag, but to enlighten. 

And just as the physical strength of every man (and every one of their other abilities) is needed in the world, the gifts of all women are also needed wherever there are people - whether it be a courtroom, the military, a household or a kitchen. We might have been historically referred to as the weaker sex, but I think that men and women are both weak and strong, in their own unique ways.  So what if women are physically weaker than men.  Maybe men are spiritually weaker than women, but that’s not a bad thing.  Men and women not only need each other’s strengths, but they also need each other’s weaknesses.  Weaknesses help to spur us on to be better individuals - we realize we’re not “there yet”.  They can motivate us to support one another and help us to be humble and honest in admitting to our needs.  And they keep us vulnerable (in a good way) and can increase intimacy between two people (if we allow them) as long as both parties understand the importance of both strengths and weaknesses, and treat the other accordingly. 

Because in the end, what matters isn’t that I benched 200 pounds or was able to do 75 squats, but that I used my abilities to their fullest to help myself and others to gain heaven.  Is there anything more fulfilling than doing just that – using your expertise to change lives, or allowing others to share their expertise with you?  Like a doctor saving a life by clearing a windpipe or a violinist bringing her audience to tears, there’s nothing better than doing what we’re meant to do, when we’re meant to do it.  It’s thrilling and satisfying and an adventure from beginning to end. 


St. Marina humiliating (and hammering) the devil
“To fulfill [her] mission, a woman has to develop her own personality and not let herself be carried away by a naive desire to imitate, which, as a rule, would tend to put her in an inferior position and leave her unique qualities unfulfilled. If she is a mature person, with a character and mind of her own, she will indeed accomplish the mission to which she feels called, whatever it may be. Her life and work will be really constructive, fruitful and full of meaning, whether she spends the day dedicated to her husband and children or whether, having given up the idea of marriage for a noble reason, she has given herself fully to other tasks. Each woman in her own sphere of life, if she is faithful to her divine and human vocation can and, in fact, does achieve the fullness of her feminine personality. Let us remember that Mary, Mother of God and Mother of men, is not only a model but also a proof of the transcendental value of an apparently unimportant life.”  ~St. Josemaria Escriva

On the Dignity and Vocation of Women, Week 7

April 7, 2014

We're reading the Apostolic Letter of John Paul II on the Dignity and Vocation of Women, 
Mulieris Dignitatem.  

If you're just joining us, here are the first week's readings, the second week's readings, the
the third, the fourth week's readings, the fifth. and the sixth.

Week 7: Read MD part VIII (The Greatest of These is Love - and the Conclusion)  - text is below.
While you're reading, consider the following:

Ponder
 
 
Reflection
Our God of order -- who is love itself -- places the vocation of women at the pinnacle of creation, by entrusting to her the primary care of the human person created in his image. What does this teach us about the masculine vocation? How does this woman live her mission in full collaboration with men, especially those who may not understand what she is meant to do? ( On the Dignity and Vocation of Women, Anniversary Edition, by Genevieve Kineke, pg. 127)

Considering the tremendous gap between the popular understanding of mena nd women, marriage and intimacy, what more can the Church do to make this particular message known? Do I feel a call to help spread this understanding of authentic femininity?

Have there been changes in the way I interact with family members, co-workers, and others since studying Mulieris Dignitatem? Can I share any effects that grace has provided thus far?


What is the most surprising (or profound) thing I have learned about the Blessed Mother since praying my way through this document? Have I grown in my relationship with her? How has she led me into a deeper understanding of the Trinity? ( On the Dignity and Vocation of Women, Anniversary Edition, by Genevieve Kineke, pg. 134)

Pray
Father God, as I allow myself to contemplate all you have placed in my care, I am stunned. Although I am just learning to trust you, I find that you have already entrusted me with so much! I know that our collaboration depends on you, and that your plan is trustworthy -- you will never suffer my foot to slip when each soul is so valuable in your sight. Help me to turn to you in every need, in every circumstance, in every triumph, for yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory, both now and forever, Amen.

Act
Resolve to perform one deliberate, hidden act of selfless love each day, no matter how small -- a prayer, a gesture, an act of restraint -- and offer these gifts for those most in need.

( On the Dignity and Vocation of Women, Anniversary Edition, by Genevieve Kineke, pg. 127,128)



VIII

"THE GREATEST OF THESE IS LOVE"

In the face of changes

28. "The Church believes that Christ, who died and was raised up for all, can through his Spirit offer man the light and the strength to respond to his supreme destiny".56 We can apply these words of the Conciliar Constitution Gaudium et Spes to the present reflections. The particular reference to the dignity of women and their vocation, precisely in our time, can and must be received in the "light and power" which the Spirit grants to human beings, including the people of our own age, which is marked by so many different transformations. The Church "holds that in her Lord and Master can be found the key, the focal point, and the goal" of man and "of all human history", and she "maintains that beneath all changes there are many realities which do not change and which have their ultimate foundation in Christ, who is the same yesterday and today, yes and forever".57

These words of the Constitution on the Church in the Modern World show the path to be followed in undertaking the tasks connected with the dignity and vocation of women, against the background of the significant changes of our times. We can face these changes correctly and adequately only if we go back to the foundations which are to be found in Christ, to those "immutable" truths and values of which he himself remains the "faithful witness" (cf. Rev. 1:5) and Teacher. A different way of acting would lead to doubtful, if not actually erroneous and deceptive results.

The dignity of women and the order of love

29. The passage from the Letter to the Ephesians already quoted (5:21-33), in which the relationship between Christ and the Church is presented as the link between the Bridegroom and the Bride, also makes reference to the institution of marriage as recorded in the Book of Genesis (cf. 2:24). This passage connects the truth about marriage as a primordial sacrament with the creation of man and woman in the image and likeness of God (cf. Gen 1:27; 5:1). The significant comparison in the Letter to the Ephesians gives perfect clarity to what is decisive for the dignity of women both in the eyes of God - the Creator and Redeemer - and in the eyes of human beings - men and women. In God's eternal plan, woman is the one in whom the order of love in the created world of persons takes first root. The order of love belongs to the intimate life of God himself, the life of the Trinity. In the intimate life of God, the Holy Spirit is the personal hypostasis of love. Through the Spirit, Uncreated Gift, love becomes a gift for created persons. Love, which is of God, communicates itself to creatures: "God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us" (Rom 5:5).

The calling of woman into existence at man's side as "a helper fit for him" (Gen 2:18) in the "unity of the two", provides the visible world of creatures with particular conditions so that "the love of God may be poured into the hearts" of the beings created in his image. When the author of the Letter to the Ephesians calls Christ "the Bridegroom" and the Church "the Bride", he indirectly confirms through this analogy the truth about woman as bride. The Bridegroom is the one who loves. The Bride is loved: it is she who receives love, in order to love in return.

Rereading Genesis in light of the spousal symbol in the Letter to the Ephesians enables us to grasp a truth which seems to determine in an essential manner the question of women's dignity, and, subsequently, also the question of their vocation: the dignity of women is measured by the order of love, which is essentially the order of justice and charity.58

Only a person can love and only a person can be loved. This statement is primarily ontological in nature, and it gives rise to an ethical affirmation. Love is an ontological and ethical requirement of the person. The person must be loved, since love alone corresponds to what the person is. This explains the commandment of love, known already in the Old Testament (cf. Deut 6:5; Lev 19:18) and placed by Christ at the very centre of the Gospel "ethos" (cf. Mt 22:36-40; Mk 12:28-34). This also explains the primacy of love expressed by Saint Paul in the First Letter to the Corinthians: "the greatest of these is love" (cf. 13:13).

Unless we refer to this order and primacy we cannot give a complete and adequate answer to the question about women's dignity and vocation. When we say that the woman is the one who receives love in order to love in return, this refers not only or above all to the specific spousal relationship of marriage. It means something more universal, based on the very fact of her being a woman within all the interpersonal relationships which, in the most varied ways, shape society and structure the interaction between all persons - men and women. In this broad and diversified context, a woman represents a particular value by the fact that she is a human person, and, at the same time, this particular person, by the fact of her femininity. This concerns each and every woman, independently of the cultural context in which she lives, and independently of her spiritual, psychological and physical characteristics, as for example, age, education, health, work, and whether she is married or single.

The passage from the Letter to the Ephesians which we have been considering enables us to think of a special kind of "prophetism" that belongs to women in their femininity. The analogy of the Bridegroom and the Bride speaks of the love with which every human being - man and woman - is loved by God in Christ. But in the context of the biblical analogy and the text's interior logic, it is precisely the woman - the bride - who manifests this truth to everyone. This "prophetic" character of women in their femininity finds its highest expression in the Virgin Mother of God. She emphasizes, in the fullest and most direct way, the intimate linking of the order of love - which enters the world of human persons through a Woman - with the Holy Spirit. At the Annunciation Mary hears the words: "The Holy Spirit will come upon you" (Lk 1:35).

Awareness of a mission

30. A woman's dignity is closely connected with the love which she receives by the very reason of her femininity; it is likewise connected with the love which she gives in return. The truth about the person and about love is thus confirmed. With regard to the truth about the person, we must turn again to the Second Vatican Council: "Man, who is the only creature on earth that God willed for its own sake, cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of self".59 This applies to every human being, as a person created in God's image, whether man or woman. This ontological affirmation also indicates the ethical dimension of a person's vocation. Woman can only hand herself by giving love to others.

From the "beginning", woman - like man - was created and "placed" by God in this order of love. The sin of the first parents did not destroy this order, nor irreversibly cancel it out. This is proved by the words of the Proto-evangelium (cf. Gen 3:15). Our reflections have focused on the particular place occupied by the "woman" in this key text of revelation. It is also to be noted how the same Woman, who attains the position of a biblical "exemplar", also appears within the eschatological perspective of the world and of humanity given in the Book of Revelation 60 She is "a woman clothed with the sun", with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of stars (cf. Rev 12:1). One can say she is a Woman of cosmic scale, on a scale with the whole work of creation. At the same time she is "suffering the pangs and anguish of childbirth" (Rev 12:2) like Eve "the mother of all the living" (Gen 3:20). She also suffers because "before the woman who is about to give birth" (cf. Rev 12:4) there stands "the great dragon ... that ancient serpent" (Rev 12:9), already known from the Proto-evangelium: the Evil One, the "father of lies" and of sin (cf. Jn 8:44). The "ancient serpent" wishes to devour "the child". While we see in this text an echo of the Infancy Narrative (cf. Mt 2:13,16), we can also see that the struggle with evil and the Evil One marks the biblical exemplar of the "woman" from the beginning to the end of history. It is also a struggle for man, for his true good, for his salvation. Is not the Bible trying to tell us that it is precisely in the "woman" - Eve-Mary - that history witnesses a dramatic struggle for every human being, the struggle for his or her fundamental "yes" or "no" to God and God's eternal plan for humanity?

While the dignity of woman witnesses to the love which she receives in order to love in return, the biblical "exemplar" of the Woman also seems to reveal the true order of love which constitutes woman's own vocation. Vocation is meant here in its fundamental, and one may say universal significance, a significance which is then actualized and expressed in women's many different "vocations" in the Church and the world.

The moral and spiritual strength of a woman is joined to her awareness that God entrusts the human being to her in a special way. Of course, God entrusts every human being to each and every other human being. But this entrusting concerns women in a special way - precisely by reason of their femininity - and this in a particular way determines their vocation.

The moral force of women, which draws strength from this awareness and this entrusting, expresses itself in a great number of figures of the Old Testament, of the time of Christ, and of later ages right up to our own day.

A woman is strong because of her awareness of this entrusting, strong because of the fact that God "entrusts the human being to her", always and in every way, even in the situations of social discrimination in which she may find herself. This awareness and this fundamental vocation speak to women of the dignity which they receive from God himself, and this makes them "strong" and strengthens their vocation.

Thus the "perfect woman" (cf. Prov 31:10) becomes an irreplaceable support and source of spiritual strength for other people, who perceive the great energies of her spirit. These "perfect women" are owed much by their families, and sometimes by whole nations.

In our own time, the successes of science and technology make it possible to attain material well-being to a degree hitherto unknown. While this favours some, it pushes others to the edges of society. In this way, unilateral progress can also lead to a gradual loss of sensitivity for man, that is, for what is essentially human. In this sense, our time in particular awaits the manifestation of that "genius" which belongs to women, and which can ensure sensitivity for human beings in every circumstance: because they are human! - and because "the greatest of these is love" (cf. 1 Cor 13:13).

Thus a careful reading of the biblical exemplar of the Woman - from the Book of Genesis to the Book of Revelation - confirms that which constitutes women's dignity and vocation, as well as that which is unchangeable and ever relevant in them, because it has its "ultimate foundation in Christ, who is the same yesterday and today, yes and forever".61 If the human being is entrusted by God to women in a particular way, does not this mean that Christ looks to them for the accomplishment of the "royal priesthood" (1 Pt 2:9), which is the treasure he has given to every individual? Christ, as the supreme and only priest of the New and Eternal Covenant, and as the Bridegroom of the Church, does not cease to submit this same inheritance to the Father through the Spirit, so that God may be "everything to everyone" (1 Cor 15:28).62

Then the truth that "the greatest of these is love" (cf. 1 Cor 13:13) will have its definitive fulfillment.

IX

CONCLUSION

If you knew the gift of God

31. "If you knew the gift of God" (Jn 4:10), Jesus says to the Samaritan woman during one of those remarkable conversations which show his great esteem for the dignity of women and for the vocation which enables them to share in his messianic mission.

The present reflections, now at an end, have sought to recognize, within the "gift of God", what he, as Creator and Redeemer, entrusts to women, to every woman. In the Spirit of Christ, in fact, women can discover the entire meaning of their femininity and thus be disposed to making a "sincere gift of self" to others, thereby finding themselves.

During the Marian Year the Church desires to give thanks to the Most Holy Trinity for the "mystery of woman" and for every woman - for that which constitutes the eternal measure of her feminine dignity, for the "great works of God", which throughout human history have been accomplished in and through her. After all, was it not in and through her that the greatest event in human history - the incarnation of God himself - was accomplished?

Therefore the Church gives thanks for each and every woman: for mothers, for sisters, for wives; for women consecrated to God in virginity; for women dedicated to the many human beings who await the gratuitous love of another person; for women who watch over the human persons in the family, which is the fundamental sign of the human community; for women who work professionally, and who at times are burdened by a great social responsibility; for "perfect" women and for "weak" women - for all women as they have come forth from the heart of God in all the beauty and richness of their femininity; as they have been embraced by his eternal love; as, together with men, they are pilgrims on this earth, which is the temporal "homeland" of all people and is transformed sometimes into a "valley of tears"; as they assume, together with men, a common responsibility for the destiny of humanity according to daily necessities and according to that definitive destiny which the human family has in God himself, in the bosom of the ineffable Trinity.

The Church gives thanks for all the manifestations of the feminine "genius" which have appeared in the course of history, in the midst of all peoples and nations; she gives thanks for all the charisms which the Holy Spirit distributes to women in the history of the People of God, for all the victories which she owes to their faith, hope and charity: she gives thanks for all the fruits of feminine holiness.

The Church asks at the same time that these invaluable "manifestations of the Spirit" (cf. 1 Cor 12:4ff.), which with great generosity are poured forth upon the "daughters" of the eternal Jerusalem, may be attentively recognized and appreciated so that they may return for the common good of the Church and of humanity, especially in our times. Meditating on the biblical mystery of the "woman", the Church prays that in this mystery all women may discover themselves and their "supreme vocation".

May Mary, who "is a model of the Church in the matter of faith, charity, and perfect union with Christ",63 obtain for all of us this same "grace", in the Year which we have dedicated to her as we approach the third millennium from the coming of Christ.

With these sentiments, I impart the Apostolic Blessing to all the faithful, and in a special way to women, my sisters in Christ.

Given in Rome, at Saint Peter's, on 15 August, the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, in the year 1988, the tenth of my Pontificate.


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This concludes our study of Mulieris Dignitatem.  Thank you for joining us!
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