It seems like a day didn’t go by in 2013 when the media wasn’t publicizing a quote from Pope Francis or a charitable act of his. But beyond those headlines Pope Francis has already given us much to reflect about, particularly in his call for “a more profound theology of woman.”
One event that will take place in the archdiocese on Feb. 8 and brings to mind his repeated call for this development is the annual gala for Endow (Educating on the Nature and Dignity of Women), a ministry whose goal is to promote a new feminism based on the teachings of Pope John Paul II.
The work that Endow does to help women discover or deepen their own feminine genius is urgently needed by our culture and our Church. Since its founding in Denver in 2003, the organization has blessed women throughout the United States and beyond with their promotion of the genius of women.
The Catholic Church has a long history of women playing vital roles at key moments. There is the example of the Virgin Mary, without whom the Church would not look the same, or St. Catherine of Siena, who helped reform the Church during a period of great turmoil. In more modern times there are saintly women like Blessed Mother Teresa or St. Gianna Beretta Molla who have provided inspiration to the world.
We live in a society today that is confused about the contribution women can make to it.
The last few decades have brought some changes that are good under the right circumstances, such as an increased participation of women in civil society, academia and the work force. But they have also seen the acceptance of ideas about what it means to be a woman that are a distortion of the true feminine genius.
This brand of feminism promotes what Pope Francis called “a kind of ‘female machismo,’” and the solutions it offers to increasing the presence of women in the Church make him “wary,” he said, “because a woman has a different make-up than a man.”
Incorporating the unique gifts of women into the Church, the Holy Father said in his Sept. 30, 2013, interview with La Civilta Cattolica magazine, can only be done by developing a “profound theology of the woman.”
I believe that a good place to start this development is by looking at the examples of Mary, the hundreds of female saints and the women present in each of our lives.
One of the greatest God-given gifts women possess is that they orient their lives “for others”—their femininity inclines them to be selfless. This is most evident in the way that they sacrifice themselves to bring new life into the world, and I don’t just mean on the physical level.
I know many lay women and religious sisters who pour themselves out in love for others, who spend their lives raising spiritual sons and daughters, like the Religious Sisters of Mercy of Alma, Mich., who teach the future priests of our archdiocese.
Women are also equipped emotionally and psychologically to be close to others, to bring to light those matters of the heart that are truly important. Without these gifts, the world and the Church is poorer, more violent and less beautiful.
Finally, a crucial part of the feminine genius is the ability to nurture, develop and grow beauty. Think for a moment about the Blessed Mother, who heard the announcement of the Archangel Gabriel that she would bear Jesus and pondered that reality in her heart as he grew inside of her. Again, when she heard the greeting of her cousin Elizabeth—“Who am I that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”—and held it in her heart and trusted in God’s plan. The fruit of her trust was the beautiful life of Jesus, the Incarnate Word.
She must have recalled these words as she raised Jesus, as she taught him about the true, good and beautiful, and as she accompanied him to the cross.
Those of us who are men are called to support women in developing their feminine genius and exercising their gifts. Mary and Joseph raised Jesus together, and Mary needed Joseph’s holiness, physical and moral support to be the mother she was called by God the Father to be.
No one has the ability to change the world like a mother, whether they are one physically or spiritually. The Church is herself a mother, who nurtures and prepares all of us for heaven, and she needs the contributions of women to carry out her mission of bringing the Gospel to the world.
I encourage the Catholic women of the archdiocese to learn more about Endow and participate in their study groups, because the Church needs the gifts you bring to her. With them, the new evangelization will succeed in the archdiocese and beyond!