"A lay Catholic perspective"

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The Christian Woman

by Cecile Flater


T HERE ARE TWO PRIMARY WAYS that women live out their vocations in the light of divine revelation. One way is through motherhood and the other is through virginity. Our Blessed Virgin and Mother Mary is the greatest model for both these roles. Her union with God as well as her sincere gift of self are the two most important aspects of a woman's vocation. Pope John Paul II tells us "The dignity of every human being and the vocation corresponding to that dignity find their definitive measure in the union of God."[1]

Mary's "yes" to Gabriel the Archangel begins her vocation as the Mother of God, fully united to God's will. She says, Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. Let it be done to me as you say.[2] Similarly, when women embrace their vocations and surrender to God's will, we enter into a clear union with God. One of Mother Theresa's novices asked her what her vocation was. Mother Theresa said that to belong to Jesus is her vocation. Pope John Paul confirms Mother Theresa's simple answer: "The dignity and the vocation of women — as well as those of men — find their eternal source in the heart of God."[3]

Think of belonging to Jesus and finding the eternal source of your call in his heart. Everything else seems small in comparison. No longer do I have to worry about how well I am doing, or if I have worked hard enough, or if I have taken care of everyone as I should. I can trust that God who is in me, and I in him, will accomplish his work. Left to my own abilities, I am doomed. Being united to God who is my strength reassures me that Jesus will save me and all my loved ones. He will lead, encourage, correct, and give me his wisdom when necessary. In him I am supremely safe.

The other attribute needed in the vocation of women, is Mary's sincere gift of self exemplified by Mary. The angel assured Mary that God was pleased with her and she would conceive and give birth to Jesus. Then she asked a very significant question. Just how could this be possible, since she was not with a man? The angel said that by the power of the Holy Spirit she would conceive Jesus. She perceptively discerned God's will and sacrificed her life to carry the Son of God in her womb. Her future was totally united to God's care and will.

Mary made the most important decision of all time. Because of her sincere gift of self, the Saviour of the world was born. Thanks be to God! Mary shows us how to give ourselves sincerely for the sake of the kingdom, in order to find our fulfilment in Christ. In Dignity and Vocation of Women we read: "The human being — both male and female — is the only being which God willed for his own sake. The human being is a person, a subject who decides for himself."[4]

The Holy Father goes on to say that the person can only fully find himself through a sincere gift of self.

No matter what a woman's age, God always has a powerful work for her. Charles Colson, in his book Kingdoms In Conflict, tells of a 93 year old woman who was confined to her bed in a nursing home. She began dictating anointed letters that were mailed to prisoners. When the prisoners read her letters, they experienced conversions. Colson was amazed when he discovered the condition and age of this woman. As he met with her, he related that he received more from her than he gave. The great joy and spiritual dignity of this woman in fulfilling her vocation was the complete gift of herself, just as she was. In her lowliness, this poor and weak woman mirrored Mary's perfect response to God's will. Women who are ready to do God's will under any conditions are raised to dignity with Mary. Mary says in her canticle: My being proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit finds joy in God my Saviour. For he has looked upon his servant in her lowliness; all ages to come shall call me blessed. And, later in the same canticle, He has deposed the mighty from their thrones, and raised the lowly to high places.[5]

An example of motherhood

The vocations of men and women in our Church today are of equal importance, and are meant to compliment each other. The role of women is neither greater nor lesser than the role of men. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states (2334), "In creating men "male and female", God gave man and woman an equal personal dignity. Both were created in the image and likeness of God."

Recently I experienced an overwhelming sense of security at the thought of my husband. I realized that no matter what happened, he would always forgive and cherish me, and I would do the same for him. With him by my side, I felt as though I could face anything. Our mutual sacrifice of love was bearing the fruit of stability and peace. Out of reverence for Jesus we learned to forgive and make way for one another, especially during difficult times. All our struggles and joys have given us a better idea of our dignity as a man and a woman of God. Pope John Paul states:

Creating men and women in his own image and likeness, God wills for them the fullness of good, or supernatural happiness, which flows from sharing in his own life.[6]

From the beautiful union of man and woman often springs forth a new life. Motherhood as a gift naturally disposes women to a special generosity and openness to the new person. The sincere outpouring of our lives through conceiving and giving birth are a tremendous fulfilment to a woman. Our femininity naturally inspires us to nurture and to be open to life.

One day, someone asked me what was the difference between my role as a mother and my husband's role as a father. I answered honestly that I nurture and Gary brings security. Our ways of relating to children balance out sooner or later. Of course, different marriages present these qualities to various degrees. God as our supreme being possesses both characteristics of motherhood and fatherhood. God shows gentleness and also disciplines us as his children. As parents, we rely upon God's wisdom and grace to help us fulfil our primary calls as mothers and fathers.

In The Dignity and Vocation of Women we read: "It is commonly thought that women are more capable than men of paying attention to another person and that motherhood develops this predisposition even more."[7]

As women and mothers we can share out feminine disposition to be sensitive, understanding, and supportive to individuals, and with the larger Church community. This ministry usually broadens when our children mature, since our first duty is to lay a foundation for them.

Call to Virginity

I have two precious friends, Joanne and Irene, who have formally consecrated their lives to Jesus, taking the vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience. Colin used to refer to Joanne as Mrs. God.

Mrs. God actually is quite appropriate, since virginity cannot be adequately understood without referring to spousal or married love. Irene and Joanne radiate a consuming love for Christ the spouse. Each woman has found Jesus who loved even unto death through his complete gift of self. They have responded with a heartfelt gift of their whole lives to the divine spouse. Such a gift of self to Christ becomes a spiritual union with him through the power of the Holy Spirit. Each woman becomes one spirit with Jesus, the spouse.

It is my privilege to know these two consecrated virgins. They have both reached out to me so many times. Right now, I am writing this article in Joanne's apartment at 11:40 p.m. while she is sleeping. She has opened up her home for me where it is quiet and free from distractions. Not only has she opened up her home but her heart and her life. I am forever grateful.

Irene is often called Rose as well. I believe her spousal union with Christ is so powerful and beautiful that 'Rose' best personifies her as a sweet and fragrant offering to our Church. She has such a listening heart, and many times has touched me with her caring words.

Virginity is a special song of the Kingdom of God to come. It also frees the individual to give all their time and energy to build the Kingdom of Heaven on earth. A woman's love is open to all persons. Virginity is a free choice made by people, who receive a special grace to carry it out.

One last thought. God entrusted Mary in a particular way with Jesus our Saviour. He continues to entrusts women with his children. This awareness can give moral and spiritual strength to us. Our role in the Church is very crucial and exciting.

Holy mothers rejoice! You cooperate with God to create and raise new persons to glorify God. Blessed virgins, be happy! All people whom you love are embraced by the love of Christ the spouse.

[1] Apostolic Letter On the Dignity and Vocation of Women, 5.4

[2] Lk 1:38

[3] Dignity and vocation of Women

[4] 14.3

[5] Lk 1:46

[6] Dignity and Vocation of Women, 9.3

[7] 18.6