Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Gift of Catholic Woman and Mother

Upon reading Mulieris Dignitatem , the urgent words I heard ringing in my ears, and soul, were not even in the document itself. But I could clearly hear the encouragement of its author, Pope John Paul II, who proclaimed to us, “Be Not Afraid!” and from Scripture, “If Christ is for us, who can be against us?” These words of encouragement support the tone of this document which should serve as clear outline of the mission God has asked of women.

When this letter was written, I was barely four years into my marriage and approaching my first year as a mother. I will sadly admit that I was not active enough in the Church to even know of its existence. But discovering it now, at its 20th anniversary, results in a poignancy I would not have appreciated had I read it back in 1988. Suffice it to say, I have grown in my acceptance and understanding of the wisdom of my Church, and having Mulieris Dignitatem now, brings more meaning and import than it would have at its first proclamation. For now I am the mother of 11, 7 of whom are daughters. While not neglecting the weight of this letter on my husband and sons, its obvious impact is on me and my daughters.

As is so often the case when it comes to the wisdom of the Church, the solutions often come before the problems are even seen. Over the past 20 years, our society has been assaulted in ways not seen by the Pope at the letter’s writing. There was no internet, cable television had fewer options and the arguments of today on stem cell research and same sex marriage may have taken place behind closed doors but not on the front page. This list could go on and on, but we all know the crusade we face as parents – especially as Catholic parents-- so it is not necessary to lament the problems. Within this letter comes the reminder and encouragement for us as women to know that we have all need for the battles ahead of us – we need not be afraid.

Within the document we see our role models, women who have come before us who have fought their battles and won. With their example, and their heavenly support, we can do the same. It is as if we walk in the same garden as Eve facing serpents with lies and temptations to trust the words of the world rather than the wisdom of the creator. In addition, we battle against centuries of individuals, societies and governments who would place women as second-class citizens incapable of being vital enough for basic rights much less roles of responsibility. But God sees not as man sees and knows we were created for His purpose and His purpose alone. We need to remember that. We can still believe that the battles we face as women, and in particular as mothers, are too much for us to handle. There are too many lies out there that are stronger than we are. We must believe and know that they are false. We need to reflect on the roles of women who encountered Jesus throughout His lifetime on earth and know that at any given moment we can be called to be as they were. We must not remain as Eve, believing the snake but take the promise of God that the serpent’s head would be crushed.

Throughout the document, we are told of the roles we are called to fulfill for God, but we also hear of His abiding and lasting trust in our ability to do it. He has not called women to missions impossible but to challenges we are capable of fulfilling with His grace and His guidance.

At any point in our lives – young or old – we are asked to fulfill God’s plan by taking an active part in it. We are not to shy away from it, believing our critics who see our tenderness as weakness and our femininity as detriment rather than a compliment. We are called to be mothers like His Mother, whether by birth or by action, to care for those around us. This should not be seen as a burden but as a sharing in creation with God himself, in a manner only we can accomplish. Only we can carry life and give birth and that capacity, even if it is not fulfilled biologically, accords us graces that men do not share. Our gifts from God are merely different but remain equal. Women are a specific creation of God not an afterthought.

We are called to serve others and sit at His knee. We are at times Mary and at times, Martha. We are his witness, like the woman at the well, telling all those around us about Jesus, who knows our lives and has the water of everlasting life. We are His herald, like the woman at the tomb, perhaps being as she was, the first one to announce to someone that “I have seen Him. He is alive’. And we are called to stand at the foot of His cross, sharing in the pain of others, willing to be with them as they carry their crosses, face their struggles, and, perhaps, even their death.

All of these can seem like too much for anyone to bear, but we are not alone. God is with us, and we must not be afraid. God has entrusted us with these roles, and He will not abandon us to attempt to complete them without His help. This trust rings so clearly throughout the document. It is what can give us the encouragement and strength we need when we face the challenges of being a mother in the 21st century. I have women in heaven praying for me and giving me support, including Eve who is looking down on us, pleading and begging with us not to take the same path that she did. It is if she is asking for my forgiveness. ‘I am sorry I lost the garden for you, don’t lose heaven as well,’ she begs. For within the roles I can be asked to do as a woman, especially as a mother, I am to point out the snakes hidden in the garden.

I will not be another Eve – I will not let the lies reach my ears and certainly not the ears of my children. My role as a woman today to be another-Eve in imitation of Mary. I need to see the temptations for what they are. I need to call lies – lies and truth – truth. I need to teach my children and those in my life to do the same. My encouragement from Mulieris Dignitatem is one of a battle cry tempered by a lullaby. I have been given a mission by God and I have the delicacy of my nature to fulfill it. I need to strive to be worthy of the trust God has in all women and teach my children to do the same.
God bless, Rachel Watkins

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