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.


~~~~~


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

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What is a woman? What does it mean to be feminine? There is softness and hardness, compassion and ferocity. There is contentment and adventure, freedom and service. We're conundrums, especially to ourselves, but we all, in some way, possess beauty, creativity, intuition and love. We were made for love, and we are loved, cellulite and all. Here we aim to show every woman the richness and beauty of her own femininity and explore current issues relating to women in our world. We also wish to share our own experiences - exploring the joys and challenges of stay-at-home moms and single professionals and everyone in between. Welcome! So glad you're here!

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