In an earlier post, Sarah wrote about the role women play in the workplace: the unique gifts femininity brings to work, and what women need from their work in order to flourish. The article, featuring the words of Bishop Fulton Sheen, acknowledges the very fact that there are differences between men and women when it comes to work, and, reading it, I was inclined to sing hallelujahs because I believe those differences are fundamental - despite my occasional (but profound) struggles to understand or accept them.
I recently came across two addresses from the Church to women having to do with women in the world, making a nice companion to our earlier article. What is our role? Our contribution? Does who we are and what we do make a difference? Is it important?
Do you recognize the image to the left? It's a play on the iconic "Rosie the Riveter" poster, praising the war efforts of American women working in factories during WWII. This Rosie, however, isn't working in a factory. Instead, she is wearing the teffillin on her arm and forehead in preparation for prayer. I like this image, because in its cheeky way, it shows where a woman's strength truly lies: in her prayer, yes, but more to the point, in her spirituality. The best a woman has to offer will not come from her physical prowess, or even her intellectual acumen, but rather from her heart, her soul, her prayer, and her love.
Following are excerpts from The Council Message to Women (December 8, 1965), and the Good Friday Sermon of Father Cantalamessa (April 6, 2007). Emphasis in all cases mine.
"On all sides the need is arising for us to give more scope to women […] Woman too needs to be saved by Christ. But it is clear that once she has been “set free”, on the human level, of all the old subjections, she will be able to do much to save our society from certain inveterate evils that threaten us: violence, the will to power, spiritual aridity, the lack of regard for life… […] We need only to avoid a repetition of the ancient Gnostic error according to which woman, to be saved, needs to cease to be woman and become man. […] To affirm their dignity, some have believed it necessary at times to imitate men’s behaviour or to minimize the sexual difference, reducing it to a mere product of culture." (GFS)A product of culture? I think we can do better than that! "God created man in His image; in the divine image He created him; male and female He created them." (Gen 1:27) Shouldn't we trust that God knew what He was doing when He designed two different beings, giving them distinct identities as male and female, man and woman? While I may not understand the duck-billed platypus, or believe mosquitoes serve a true purpose, I do believe function follows design in the case of human beings.
"Women, you who know how to make truth sweet, tender, and accessible, make it your task to bring the spirit of this Council into institutions, schools, homes, and daily life. Women of the entire universe, whether Christian or non-believing, you to whom life is entrusted at this grave moment in history, it is for you to save the peace of the world." (CMW)
That is not a small commission! It is for us "to save the peace of the world", and because it was given to women specifically as a group, it must require something of us we share in common - our femininity. We can restore peace to the world by being women.
"The enhancement of intelligence and of humankind’s cognitive powers has, unhappily, not been matched by any enhancement of our capacity for love. It seems, in fact, that this capacity for love counts for nothing even though we know that to be happy or unhappy depends not so much on whether we know or don’t know, as on whether we love or don’t love, are loved or are not loved. It is easy to see why this is so: we are created “in the image of God”, and God is love. Deus caritas est!" (GFS)
Here is where woman's strength comes into play. We've written before - inspired by great women such as Alice von Hildebrand, Caryll Houselander, and Catherine Doherty - about a woman's nature being more intuitive, relational, spiritual. This task of bringing love to others, and helping them to know they are loved, is perfectly suited to a woman's design. (Women in all states of life - single and religious women are included in this commission.)
"Our society, dominated by technology, needs a heart if humankind is to survive without becoming totally dehumanized. We need to give more room to “reasons of the heart” if, while the globe is physically warming, we do not want the planet to fall into an ice-age of the spirit. The big crisis of faith in our modern world is rooted in the fact that people don’t listen to the reasons of the heart but only to the twisted reasons of the mind. "(GFS)
The Council Message to women closes with a very positive and promising statement:
“But the hour is coming, in fact has come, when the vocation of women is being achieved in its fullness, the hour in which woman acquires in the world an influence, an effect, and a power never hitherto achieved. That is why, at this moment when the human race is undergoing so deep a transformation, woman impregnated with the spirit of the Gospel can do much to aid mankind in not falling." (CMW)Women, by being women, can restore the peace of the world, bring about happiness through love, stave off an ice-age of the spirit, and aid mankind in not falling. Doesn't that sound perfectly doable?