The model of woman represented by
Mary clearly shows what is specific to the feminine personality.
Mary Reveals True Feminity
In 1995, in a letter to all the
women of the special consideration to the recent thought and world on the
occasion of the United Nations' Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing,
China, Pope John Paul II wrote beautifully of the Blessed Virgin Mary's
example to all women: a life of service as an expression of love. He said
The Church sees in Mary the
highest expression of the '.feminine genius", and she finds in her a source
of constant inspiration. Mary called herself the "handmaid of the Lord."
(Luke 1:38) Through obedience to the word of God she accepted her lofty,
yet not easy, vocation as wife and mother in the family of Nazareth. Putting
herself at God's service, she also put herself at the service of others: a
service of love. Precisely through this service Mary was able to experience
in her life a mysterious, but authentic “reign". It is not by chance that
she is invoked as 'Queen of Heaven and Earth" ..: For her, “to reign" is to
serve! Her service is "to reign."
How Mary "reigns" through "a service of love," and how this loving service
by Mary is a model for all women and underlies their true vocation, is what
we shall consider here, giving the recent thought and writings of writings
of Pope John Paul II. Additionally, we shall look at how radical feminism
femininity by rejecting the
notion of service in love, again, looking at the Holy Father's words on this
subject. But in order to address these, issues, we first must consider two
attributes which underlie Mary's loving service, and the whole notion of
femininity: receptivity and fruitfulness.
Mary’s receptivity and fruitfulness as a
basis for service to life and love
Mary’s entire life, from the
moment of her Immaculate Conception, reveals the unique feminine attribute
of receptivity: She received: a singular grace from the Holy Spirit which
preserved her from all sin and endowed her with a fullness of grace; and she
was open and receptive to the will of God in all things--in her call to be
the Mother of the Redeemer, and her freely willed offering of her Son on the
Cross to the Father.
Because both men and women are
creatures, we all are "feminine" in relationship to God, our Creator,
receiving our very existence, and any growth in holiness, from him. On the
spiritual level holiness is, in essence, receptivity; and Mary is a model
for us all in being receptive to God's grace and for growth in sanctity. But
Mary reveals to women in a particular way the unique feminine attribute of
receptivity to life, and the fruitfulness which, by God's design,
flows there from. She said "Yes" to God and conceived Jesus, the Author of
Life, whom the angel called the "Blessed Fruit" of her womb. Seen in this
light, Mary's receptivity to life/motherhood and the fruitfulness which
followed in the Incarnation are the foundation for her reign of service in
love to God and others, as extolled by Pope John Paul II. Through Mary, God
reveals to women that their vocation to a life of service in love is rooted
in these same attributes.
All motherhood, by its very
nature, is linked to receptivity and fruitfulness; and receptivity
presupposes fertility. In the more traditional understanding of the
spiritual/biological make up of the human person and its life-giving powers,
men are "potent" (life is created outside of their bodies), and women are
"fertile" (life is conceived within their bodies). With this understanding,
we can see that the Original Blessing given by God to man applies in a
special way to women: "Be fertile (or, as some translations say, fruitful--the
result of fertility) and multiply." (Gen. 1:28) Mothers conceive new
life-the fruit of the womb-- as a result of being fertile and receptive to
the love of a husband and to God's love, both of which are potentially
Receptivity to life and
fruitfulness in childbearing has been at the heart of God's “covenant plan"
for the human race from the very beginning. This is revealed not only in
Genesis; it is a recurring theme throughout the Old Testament:
Fruitfulness--the extension of God's Kingdom, here on earth, and ultimately
in heaven--is inextricably linked to the Covenant. When Noah came out of the
Ark, God repeated the original blessing given to Adam and Eve: "God blessed
Noah and his sons and said to them, 'Be fertile and multiply and fill the
earth' "(Genesis 9:1). God later told Abraham, "I will bless you abundantly
and make your descendants as countless as the stars in the sky and the sands
of the seashore" (Genesis 22: 17).
The chosen people of God were
fruitful and multiplied. This was one of the distinctive marks of the people
of the Covenant, which separated them from the other nations. It was because
the Israelites were fruitful in the land of Egypt that Pharaoh oppressed
them as slaves (Exodus 1:9-10). And before entering the Promised Land, Moses
instructed the people, "As your reward for heeding these decrees and
observing them carefully, the Lord will keep the merciful covenant which he
promised on oath to your fathers. He will love you and bless and multiply
you; he will bless the fruit of your womb...." (Deuteronomy 7:12-13)
The psalms are replete with
references to the blessings of fruitfulness in childbearing: "Truly sons are
a gift from the Lord, a blessing, the fruit of the womb. Indeed the sons of
youth are like arrows in the hand of a warrior. O the happiness of the man
who has filled his quiver with these arrows!" (Psalms 127:3-5); "O blessed
are those who fear the Lord and walk in his ways! ...You will be happy and
prosper; your wife like a fruitful vine in the heart of your house; your
children like shoots of the olive, around your table." (Psalms 128: 1, 3)
Psalm 107 speaks of the Lord who "raises the needy from distress and makes
families numerous as a flock. The upright see it and rejoice, but all who do
wrong are silenced." (vv. 41-42)
"Rejoicing" in fruitfulness, in
children, was a mark of the People of God who were under the Old Covenant.
As both Scripture and Tradition bear out, this holds true with the new
People of God under the New and Everlasting Covenant beginning with Mary,
the supreme model for women in receptivity and fruitfulness. At the
Annunciation of the Incarnation, the Angel Gabriel told Mary to "rejoice"
(Luke 1:28), and in the Magnificat, Mary's song of praise after having
conceived Jesus, she says, "my spirit rejoices in God my Savior." (Luke
Radical feminism's rejection of receptivity
to life and service in love
Our Holy Father wrote his letter
to women to counter the forces and ideology of radical feminism which
attempted to dominate the Beijing Conference. Radical feminism undermines
true femininity by rejecting that which is unique to the feminine: fertility
(receptivity to life) and fruitfulness. It regards children as a curse
rather than a blessing, and scorns the "service of love" required of
motherhood because it sees child bearing and child rearing as obstacles to
the pursuit of self –interest: a career, material gain, and economic
independence. This is precisely why radical feminism supports contraception
and sterilization (the purpose of which is to render a woman infertile and
thereby unreceptive to new life), and abortion (which renounces the fruit of
love by killing new life).
Anne Mercedes Maloney, Ph.D, a
professor of philosophy at the College of St. Catherine in St. Paul, Minn.,
wrote a superb article in response to the anti-woman, anti-child/family
mentality prevalent at the U.N. Women's Conference in Beijing: "The
Catholic Church & Women: Male & Female He Created Them."
Therein she quoted the "foundress" of radical feminism, Simone de Beauvior,
who wrote "woman's misfortune is to have been biologically destined for the
reproduction of life";
and Shularnith Firestone, who has said that, “the heart of a woman's
oppression is her child-bearing and child-rearing roles."Such thinking reveals a deep-seated revulsion toward
receptivity/fertility and the fruit of marital love, the child; and betrays
a radical revolt against God, against his original blessing (given
especially to women), and against a woman's very nature.
One paragraph in particular
captures the heart of Dr. Maloney's message, and is worth quoting in full:
Catholic Church envisions a world in which woman's distinctive character and
potential are acknowledged and valued as a model for all human beings. Many
trendy thinkers see the male mode as the ideal. The path to liberation,
according to such a model, is to make women as much like men as possible.
Thus the move toward contraception, which tells women they cannot be equal
to men unless they chemically or surgically alter their bodies to be more
like male bodies. The implication is that the female body needs fixing. The
contraceptive mentality further encourages women to sever their traditional
tendency to invest themselves sexually only in relationships that promise
commitment and longevity. When sexual relationships contain the potential to
transmit life, women take care to give themselves only to those they can
trust with their deepest needs. Rather than raise this attitude as the
standard to which human beings should aspire, contraception makes such care
unnecessary. Women can walk away from sexual encounters as easily as men.
Thus, once again, the male model is offered as the paradigm. And when the
contraception fails (as all forms do), the social culture offers a woman
the "choice" to have her body surgically invaded and her unborn child torn
from her womb so that she will not have to lose out in the public,
competitive world--the male world. The road to freedom, equality, dignity,
says the contraceptive and abortive culture to young women, is to stop
acting like a woman, and start acting like a man. Above all else, the
culture adds, do not expect the world to respect what is distinctively
female about you....
Pope John Paul
echoed these thoughts in a general audience of December 6, 1995, in which he
pointed to Mary's life as revealing to women their true role in contemporary
society. He said that
the role entrusted to Mary by the
divine plan of salvation sheds light on the vocation of women in the life of
the Church and society by defining its difference in relation to man. The
model represented by Mary clearly shows what is specific to the feminine
In recent times, some trends in
the feminist movement, in order to advance women's emancipation, have sought
to make her like a man in every way. The divine intention manifested in
creation, however, though desiring woman to be man's equal in dignity and
worth, at the same time clearly affirms her diversity and specific features.
Woman's identity cannot consist in being a copy of man, since she is endowed
with her own qualities and prerogatives, which give her a particular
uniqueness that is always to be fostered and encouraged.
These prerogatives and particular
features of the feminine personality attained their full development in
Mary. The fullness of divine grace actually fostered in her all the natural
abilities typical of woman.
The Holy Father went on to say
that in cooperating with God's will to become the Mother of the Redeemer,
Mary reveals "the style in which woman must concretely express her mission.
...the Virgin makes no proud demands nor does she seek to satisfy personal
ambitions. Luke presents her as wanting only to offer her humble service
with total and trusting acceptance of the divine plan of salvation."
The masculine as the only model for the human
The exaltation of the masculine
as the only valid model for the human person permeates much of our culture.
In television shows and movies, for example, seldom are women portrayed as
fuII-time homemakers, as they were in the past. When the script does call
for a mother with children, she is often a working mom. My own mother used
to comment on how unrealistic was the old Cosby show, where the wife and
mother of four, while holding a full-time job as a lawyer (with dad as a
physician), always had a spotless home. "Who does the cleaning, and the
cooking of the evening meals?", she used to quip.
In our day TV and movies often
portray women in traditional male roles--doctors, lawyers, policemen and
soldiers/warriors; or as young, independent career women—either married or
single-with no children. The professional working woman is portrayed as
tough, competitive, and aggressive--attributes usually admired in men, and
which come more naturally to the male, but which, realistically, do not come
naturally to women and which (generally speaking) are unfitting for a truly
The push for females to assume
male roles is also seen in the trend for girls to play contact sports:
boxing, wrestling, and (yes!) basketball. These sports require an
aggressiveness that is generally unnatural to most females, and must instead
be cultivated. The breeding of aggressiveness in females works to
undermine their natural sensitivity and is inimical to the loving tenderness
required in child bearing and child rearing.
Can we realistically expect young
women whose thinking and/or practical experience has been de-formed into
accepting the male as the paradigm, when they marry, to regard their
husbands as head of the home and be submissive (in the proper sense of which
St. Paul speaks) to their authority? Is it likely that they will consider
motherhood, the nurturing of children, and homemaking--lives of loving
service to others in the family--as fulfilling their highest vocation? Will
they be able to see the incomparable value of having a large family and of
caring for their husband and children on a full-time basis? And if, as in
the case of so many women today, they are college-educated or earn a higher
degree, will they be willing to sacrifice their professional careers in
order to bear more than one or two children, and to devote a good part of
their adult years to serving their family? Not likely.
of women in selfish pursuits
And why not? Because the feminist
mentality is deeply rooted in selfishness It equates the "empowerment" of
women with the "self-fulfillment" of a career, and rejects the notion of
service to others in its most exalted place and where it is most needed: in
the home and in the family. Therefore, say the feminist gurus,
women--especially educated, career women-- should not "waste" their talents
and abilities at home raising children; instead, they should pay someone
else to undertake this "menial" task.
In his general audience of July
20, 1994, Pope John Paul ll criticized this way of thinking:
...the value of motherhood has been contested and criticized. The greatness
traditiona1Iy attributed to it has been presented as a backward idea, a
social fetish. ..some have considered it as a limitation of the female
personality, as a restriction on women's freedom and on their desire to take
up and engage in other activities. Hence, many women feel compelled to
forego motherhood ...to be able to devote themselves to professional work.
Many even claim the right to suppress the life of their own child through
invention of the term "quality time"-- a purely mental construct, with no
true basis in reality--has conveniently been used to soothe the consciences
of those mothers who, in selfish pursuit of their careers, delegate their
God-given duties of child rearing to a third party. Quality time is based
upon a number of absurd notions: 1) that one or two hours of time spent with
one's children can make up for eight or ten hours away from them; 2) that
children will suffer no detrimental effects from daily mother-child
separation; and 3) that the character formation and education of
children--which is primarily an education in love--can be done as well by
someone other than the mother.
Both common sense and human
experience should tell us that a mother's love, as well as the time she
spends with her children, are irreplaceable; and that the daily care,
attention and nurturing given by a mother to her children are of
immeasurable value in the formation of their character, as well as for their
spiritual, psychological, and even physical well-being. Separating children
from their mothers is unnatural, and cannot but be harmful to them. With so
many children today being literally riddled with Ritalin, it is worth
considering whether a link exists between the rise in working moms and the
increasing number of hyperactive" children.
The Vatican II document Gaudium
et Spes (The Church in the Modern World), in discussing the parents' role in
the upbringing of children, teaches, "The active presence of the father is
very important for their upbringing; the mother, too, has a central role in
the home, for the children, especially the younger children, depend on
That children, especially younger children, depend considerably on their
mother is an understatement. Children are naturally inquisitive, and
constantly ask questions (the mind is made to know). The mother is the
primary educator in matters of life and love, and her physical presence
enables her to answer questions, to form the minds and hearts of the little
ones whom God has entrusted to her care.
During his July 20, 1994 general
audience, the Holy Father explained in a most beautiful way the "dual value"
of motherhood: both in conceiving and giving birth to new life, and in the
care given to children on a personalistic level--the gift of self--as being a
reflection of Trinitarian love:
However much woman's roles can be
multiplied and broadened, everything in her-her physiology, psychology,
almost connatural habit, moral, religious, and even aesthetic
sentiment, reveals and exalts her aptitude, ability and mission in bringing
forth from herself a new being. She is much more disposed than man to the
generative task. In virtue of pregnancy and childbirth, she is more
intimately bound to the child, close to his whole development, more
immediately responsible for his growth, more intensely sharing in his
joy, sorrow, and risk in life.
Although it is true that the
mother's task must be coordinated with the father's presence and
responsibility, it is the woman who plays the more important role at the
beginning of every human being's life. It is a role that highlights an
essential characteristic of the human person, who is not meant to remain
closed up within himself but to be open and self -giving to others. ...This
orientation toward others is essential to the person by virtue of the
highest source of Trinitarian love, from which man takes his origin.
Motherhood represents an apex of this personalistic and community
Granted, in many cases today
mothers are forced to work by reason of their circumstances: those who have
been abandoned by their husbands; those courageous young single mothers who
refuse to abort their children even when the fathers have been irresponsible
and walked away; or wives whose husbands are not paid a living wage to
support their families. In these unfortunate circumstances, where the lack
of full-time care by the mother is unintentional, we must pray that God's
grace may somehow supply for the love and attention that may be wanting for
such children. But in the case of many professional, educated women, the
feminist mentality has taken firm hold, which views the pursuit of a career
and work in the marketplace as something to be valued over and above the
care, formation and education of children; and children are viewed as an
'obstacle" to career pursuits. For women such as these, work outside the
home is not necessary; it is preferred.
can ever compare to the pre-eminent dignity of motherhood
Pope John Paul II, in his general
audience of December 6, 1995, commented on this mentality, saying that “an
erroneous concept of freedom, which sees child care as a hindrance to
woman's autonomy and opportunities, [has ] obscured the significance of
motherhood for the development of the feminine personality." And in his
audience of July 2O, 1994 the Holy Father stated, "Whatever may be the
professional opportunities women enjoy in society, nothing can ever compare
to the preeminent dignity that is theirs through motherhood. ...We see that
Mary, the model woman, fulfilled the mission to which she was called in the
economy of the Incarnation and Redemption by way of motherhood."
Mother Teresa of Calcutta said,
"Faith in action is love, and love in action is service." Mary, the Woman of
Faith, reveals to everyone, and especially to women, that in God's plan
receptivity gives birth not only to life, but also to love--love in the form
of service to others. St. Luke tells us that immediately after uttering her
"Fiat" and conceiving Jesus, Mary went "with haste" to visit her cousin
Elizabeth and assist her in her need. The rest of Mary's life was spent in
service to her Child, the Son of God made man; a service which entailed
great personal sacrifice--even unto offering her Son on the Cross; but a
service above all motivated by love. Here Mary is the model for all mothers:
they fulfill their highest vocation as women through service to their
children by selfless love. And as our Holy Father says, "nothing can ever
compare to the pre-eminent dignity" that is a woman's through the selfless
service of love she performs in fulfilling her role as a mother.
More recently, Pope John Paul II
discussed in detail the extraordinary value of a mother's work in the home,
which is so often overlooked and not fully appreciated:
Mary's awareness that she was
carrying out a task entrusted to her by God gave a higher meaning t to her
daily life. The simple, humble chores of everyday life took on special value
in her eyes, since she performed them as a service to Christ's mission.
Mary's example enlightens and
encourages the experience of so many women who carry out their daily tasks
exclusively in the home. It is a question of a humble, hidden, repetitive
effort, and is often not sufficiently appreciated.
Nonetheless, the long years Mary spent in the house of Nazareth reveal the
enormous potential of genuine love and thus of salvation. In fact, the
simplicity of the lives of so many housewives, seen as a mission of service
and love, is of extraordinary value in the Lord's eyes.10
Dr. Alice von Hildebrand points
out that the vocation of every woman is to be a mother-- even if not in the
flesh, then spiritually-- through loving, sacrificial service to others. She
says that if Satan can convince women to forsake this vocation and to join
him in his cry, "I will not serve," then he will have won the battle and
society will be doomed.
To assure that Satan will not
prevail, priests, parents and educators need to reinforce and affirm in a
most positive way, the great dignity of women precisely in their unique
feminine gifts--of fertility, of child bearing and rearing, and of loving
service in the home and family-- which are being devalued by the selfish,
anti-life and anti-child mentality so prevalent in our present -day culture.
All women, especially girls and young women, should be taught the meaning of
sacrificial love as it relates specifically to the feminine and to
motherhood. They should be helped to see, as Pope John Paul II says, that
the "simplicity of the life" of a housewife and mother, seen as a "mission
of service of love," truly has "extraordinary value in God's eyes"; and that
the procreation and education of children has an eternal value which far
outweighs any material or economic benefit from work in the marketplace--so
much so that women should be willing to put their careers on hold to fulfill
this noble and exalted task.
Dr. von Hildebrand tells the story
of a woman who wrote to her after bearing her fifth child, saying, "I feel
like Michelangelo." She wrote back, "No, you have done much better:
Michelangelo's paintings will one day be gone; but your child will live
forever!" In speaking with children and teens (e.g., in Confirmation
classes) on the subject of vocations, I always make it a point to stress the
incomparable value of children and great dignity of motherhood, and then to
ask questions such as: "Which is of greater value: a new house or car, or a
newly-born baby?"; and, "In your opinion, which is more important for a
woman to do: to work at a job or a career and make money; or to bear
children, and to form and educate them for life on this earth, and for
eternal life in heaven?" I ask them to compare the work of a mother who
cares for her children in the home, with the work of a father who is
employed outside the home. Even though the father brings home a paycheck,
which work is of greater value? By asking such questions, we can form the
minds of young people and help them to value children, motherhood and loving
service in the family, over material things and selfish career pursuits.
empowerment of women
Unfortunately, those who propound
the radical feminist ideology fail to realize that real power lies in
motherhood and in fulfilling the sublime role of child rearing. As the old
saying goes, 'The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world." Most of the
great figures throughout history who have done good for their fellow man
have been "products" of their mothers, who formed their character. George
Washington said, "I attribute all my success in life to the moral,
intellectual, and physical education which I received from my mother." On
one occasion a London newspaper submitted to Winston Churchill a list of
people who had been his teachers, and he returned it with these words: "You
have omitted the greatest of my teachers--my mother!" The English poet George
Herbert once remarked, "One good mother is worth one hundred schoolmasters."
And the American humorist Mark Twain wrote that, "It is at our mother's knee
that we acquire our noblest and truest and highest ideals."
God revealed to us the
incomparable value of a child when his own Son began his human life on earth
first in the womb of Mary, and then as a helpless, newborn infant, totally
dependent upon his Mother. He revealed the glories of motherhood in Mary,
who nurtured the God- man and spent herself in humble, loving service within
the Holy Family. And in Mary he reveals that it is in motherhood where
women, by God's design, can truly reign: Mary now reigns as Queen
precisely because she said "Yes" to God’s call to become the Mother of his
Son, and to serve him-during her life on earth, and now, forever in Heaven!
Dwight P. Campbell
Reverend Dwight P. Campbell is pastor of St. Thomas Parish in Philo, Ill. A
Chicago native, he earned his Juris Doctor from Loyola University of Chicago
in 1981 and practiced law for four years as an Assistant State's Attorney in
down- state Illinois before entering the seminary in 1986. Since his
ordination to the priesthood in 1991 he has served in a number of parishes,
and worked for two years as a high school chaplain. This is his fourth
article in HPR. 12 General audience, January 29, 1997, L 'Osservatore
Romano English edition, February 5, 1997.
Pope John Paul II. Letter to Women, June 29, 1995
(Catholic Post, newspaper of the Diocese of Peoria, n., July 30,
1995) par. 10.
In his general audience of May 8, 1996, Pope John Paul n translates
the first word of the angel's greeting to Mary-in Greek chaire-as
"Rejoice"; saying that "rejoice is an invitation to joy" due to
"God's presence among his people, the coming of the messianic King,
and maternal fruitfulness." (Emphasis added.) L
'Osservatore Romano, English edition,May 15, 1996.
Anne Mercedes Maloney, Ph.D. (United States Catholic Conference,
Inc., Washington, D.C., 1995). This article was mailed to priests
throughout the U.S. in a pro-life packet to prepare for Respect Life
Month in October 1995.
Simone de Beauvior, The Second Sex, trans.H.M. Parshley (New York:
Vintage, 1974) 72.
Shulamith Firestone, The Dialectic of Sex. (New York: Bantam,
Philosophically ,radical feminism (along with the existentialism of
Jean Paul Sartre and his longtime mistress, Simone de Beauvior) is
linked to atheistic communism, which holds that man "creates"
himself by the work he does, and which measures the value of the
human person solely by his or her economic productivity. Back in the
Lenin legalized abortion in the Soviet Union in order to "free"
women from the burden of children so they could work outside the
home and help to build the "worker's paradise." It is hardly
surprising that Simone de Beauvior praised Marxism and its view of
the human person.
Maloney, op. cit., p. 3.
L'Osservatore Romano, English edition, December 13, 1995.52.
L’Osservatore Romano, English edition, July 27, 1994.
For studies which show the harm done to children as a result of
daycare, see my article, "Daycare as Child Neglect," Homiletic &
Pastoral Review (October 1990). II Par. 52.
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