Sheds Light on
Role of Women
By Pope John Paul II
1. As I have already
explained in the preceding catechesis, the role entrusted to Mary by the
divine plan of salvation sheds light on the vocation of woman in the life of
the Church and society by defining its difference in relation to man. The
model represented by Mary dearly 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 man in every way. However, the divine intention
manifested in creation, 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.
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.
'Let it be
done to me according to your word'
Mary's role in the
work of salvation is totally dependent on Christ's. It is a unique function,
required by the fulfillment of the mystery of the Incarnation: Mary's
motherhood was necessary to give the world its Savior, the true Son of God,
but also perfectly man.
The importance of
woman's co-operation in the coming of Christ is emphasized by the initiative
of God, who, through the angel, communicates his plan of salvation to the
Virgin of Nazareth so that she can consciously and freely co-operate by
giving her own generous consent.
Here the loftiest
model of woman's collaboration in the Redemption of man--every man--is
fulfilled; this model represents the transcendent reference point for every
affirmation of woman's role and function in history.
2. In carrying out
this sublime form of cooperation, Mary also shows the style in which woman
must concretely express her mission.
With regard to the
angel's message, the Virgin makes no proud demands nor does she seek to
satisfy personal ambitions. Luke presents her to us as wanting only to offer
her humble service with total and trusting acceptance of the divine plan of
salvation. This is the meaning of her response: "Behold, I am the handmaid
of the Lord, let it be done to me according to your word." (Luke 1:38)
It is not a question
of a purely passive acceptance, since her consent is given only after she
has expressed the difficulty that arose from her intent to remain a virgin,
inspired by her will to belong more completely to the Lord.
Having received the
angel's response, Mary immediately expresses her readiness, maintaining an
attitude of humble service. It is the humble, valuable service that so many
women, following Mary's example, have offered and continue to offer in the
Church for the growth of Christ's kingdom.
3. The figure of
Mary reminds women today of the value of motherhood. In the contemporary
world the appropriate and balanced importance is not always given to this
value. In some cases, the need for women to work in order to provide for the
needs of their family and an erroneous concept of freedom, which sees
child-care as a hindrance to woman's autonomy and opportunities, have
obscured the significance of motherhood for the development of the feminine
personality. On the contrary, in other cases the biological aspect of
childbirth becomes so important as to overshadow the other significant
opportunities woman has for expressing her innate vocation to being a
In Mary we have been
given to understand the true meaning of motherhood, which attains its
loftiest dimension in the divine plan of salvation. For her, being a mother
not only endows her feminine personality, directed towards the gift of life,
with its full development, but also represents an answer of faith to woman's
own vocation, which assumes its truest value only in the light of God's
covenant (cf. Mulieris dignitatem, 19).
4. In looking
attentively at Mary, we also discover in her the model of virginity lived
for the kingdom.
The Virgin par
excellence, in her heart she grew in her desire to live in this state in
order to achieve an ever deeper intimacy with God.
For women called to
virginal chastity, Mary reveals the lofty meaning of so special a vocation
and thus draws attention to the spiritual fruitfulness which it produces in
the divine plan: a higher order of motherhood, a motherhood according to the
Spirit (cf. Mulieris dignitatem, 21).
Women sow the
seeds of the civilization of love
heart, open to all human misfortune, also reminds women that the development
of the feminine personality calls for a commitment to charity. More
sensitive to the values of the heart, woman shows a high capacity for
To all in our age
who offer selfish models for affirming the feminine personality, the
luminous and holy figure of the Lord's Mother shows how only by self-giving
and self-forgetfulness towards others is it possible to attain authentic
fulfillment of the divine plan for one's own life.
therefore encourages sentiments of mercy and solidarity in women for
situations of human distress and arouses a desire to alleviate the pain of
those who suffer: the poor, the sick and all in need of help.
In virtue of her
special bond with Mary, woman has often in the course of history represented
God's closeness to the expectations of goodness and tenderness of a humanity
wounded by hatred and sin, by sowing in the world seeds of a civilization
that can respond to violence with love.
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