J.M.J. In our contemporary era, there are many competing images of women and womanhood.
Who is a woman and with what is she to be involved?
This question, although its answer may seem obvious, has received widely varying responses from diverse sources: Playboy Magazine, Planned Parenthood of America, the National Organization for Women and Saint John Paul II, to name a few.
Playboy Magazine considers physically "attractive" women (in its estimation) to be akin to goddesses to be coveted for their ability to provide sexual pleasure.
Planned Parenthood of America declares that the "abortion decision" is to be made by women alone, ignoring the facts that men are responsible for conception and that abortion unfailingly takes the lives of a third party--innocent preborn children.
The National Organization for Women contends that women have been traditionally oppressed, especially because of their role as child-bearer. Therefore, they should now be aggressive in reasserting their "rights" to "reproductive freedom," among other equality issues.
Finally, Saint John Paul II, in harmony with Sacred Scripture and the Apostolic Tradition, believed women to be holy daughters of the Creator who possess an intrinsic beauty and value because they, like men, have been fashioned in the imago Dei--"the image of God."
In the midst of these opposing viewpoints, we would do well to remember one simple but profound truth: the Almighty Lord, in the words of our Holy Father in his Letter to Women (June 29, 1995), has a "mysterious plan regarding the vocation and mission of women in the world." Each and every woman--regardless of her role as mother, wife, daughter, sister, religious, consecrated person, consecrated virgin--is remarkable and special in God's eyes. Saint John Paul II, in pondering the dignity of each woman, wrote: "Through the insight which is so much a part of your womanhood you enrich the world's understanding and help to make human relations more honest and authentic" (number 2).
Where would we be without women? The astounding realization--but perhaps not too astonishing, upon prayerful reflection--is that we owe women our very physical lives. Our mothers and fathers conceived us and brought us forth. We did not exist until they provided the physical matter (the seed and the egg) and God furnished the spiritual matter (the rational, immortal soul).
The Ever-Virgin Mother of God is the only woman hailed as both Virgin and Mother. She, more than any other person, cooperated freely in the inscrutable design of the Maker by yielding to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, thereby living with a zest to do good that is at once amazing and inspirational. Our Blessed Lady teaches us how to put aside our projects so that Christ can work in us His inimitable plan of salvation.
As the Church praises God for Our Lady, we also offer our gratitude for women and womanhood. As the Holy Father expressed in his August 15, 1988 Apostolic Letter Mulieris dignitatem ("The Dignity of Women"), the Church "desires to give thanks to the Most Holy Trinity for the 'mystery of woman' and for every woman 'for all that 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" (number 31).
The Madonna is, in the words of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council's Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium), the stellar example of "obedience, faith, hope and burning charity" (number 61) for all women, no matter their state in life. She reflects Christ and instructs all her daughters to do the same. Mary is the model for all peoples, but especially for women.
When we recite the Holy Rosary, let us pray for women everywhere, that they may imitate Mary in her countless virtues.
Where would we be without women? No Mary . . . no mothers . . . no wives . . . no sisters . . . no daughters . . . no women religious . . . no consecrated women . . . no consecrated virgins . . . how impoverished our world--and depleted Heaven--would be!
(From The Catholic Servant, May 1998, page five. Used with permission.)