and Women -
Most people consciously
or not have role models to guide them on life’s path. The reasons why a
particular person can be a role model varies; but the admiration they
inspire and the ideal they represent, is what makes them attractive. A
decisive quality of an effective role model is the ability to convey moral
and spiritual values an individual longs to emulate; a role model thus
stimulates a person to reach beyond self.
The role models girls
and women are exposed to today are related to fashion, dating, marital and
any interpersonal relationships, as well as professional careers but do not
deal with their future role as mothers. These models appeal to appearance,
to fast fading popularity in the world of entertainment and sports. Often
they are of questionable integrity, thereby persistently ignoring the
Christian and moral implications of womanhood.
Mary – the
timeless role model
From a Christian/Catholic standpoint, the Blessed Virgin Mary remains the model for all woman
at all times since the reality which she exemplifies is all-inclusive and
transcends time and cultures. Mary is the perfected human being; in her
women of all ages can see what it means to be a woman in communion with
Christ. From her a woman of any cultural and social setting can learn that
the fulfillment of feminine existence is not warranted by aspiring to become
a copy of the masculine since such attempts always distort the female image
and mission. Rather, Mary is the paradigm of a truly liberated woman, i.e. a
woman who freely embraces her own calling and knows herself beloved by God
and all generations. She is ”a model of the ‘sequela Christi’, an example
of how the Bride must respond with love to the love of the Bridegroom.”
after the image of Mary
fulfillment of each feminine existence lies in the unfolding of this
God-willed image of woman, Mary.
Women who strive to be an incarnation of Mary are likewise models for all
Christian women. Concretely this implies complete surrender in the form of a
gift of self to God and others in virginal motherhood or motherly virginity
depending on one’s state in life. The bridal and maternal facets of
femininity correspond to two specific and complementary feminine roles: the
undivided (virginal) receptivity for God and her giving of self (maternal)
By living up to their
calling from God, women will recognize the unique value of femininity and
its crucial mission in this world. This is proven by numerous testimonies.
John Paul II summarizes them as follows:
constant impulse has come from the icon of Mary, the ‘ideal woman’,... But
also [from] the courage of women martyrs who faced the cruelest torments
with astounding fortitude, the witness of women exemplary for their radical
commitment to the ascetic life, the daily dedication of countless wives and
mothers in that ‘domestic Church’ that is the family and the charisms of the
many women mystics who have also contributed to the growth of theological
understanding, offering the Church invaluable guidance in grasping fully
God’s plan for women.
much disputed in our time, the deepest and most authentic mission of a
married woman is her spouse and family.
In an address to women at the close of Vatican II, Paul VI explained:
Wives, mothers of
families, the first educators of the human race in the intimacy of the
family circle, pass on to your sons and your daughters the traditions of
your fathers at the same time that you prepare them for an unsearchable
future. Always remember that by her children a mother belongs to that future
which perhaps she will not see.
history there were women models who by their prayers and example have
supported their husbands in their mission, for example: Elizabeth of
Hungary, Bridget of Sweden, Dorothea of Flue. A more recent example is
Franziska, the wife of Franz Jägerstätter, the Austrian farmer, who was
executed because he followed his conscience and refused to fight in Hitler’s
army. His courageous wife, after a difficult struggle, aligned herself to
the sacrifice of his life.
forgiveness were exemplary of some holy wives who eventually brought about
the conversion of their erring spouses, for example: St. Monica, St Rita of
Cascia, Perpetua and Felicity. A model wife of the twentieth century,
Elizabeth Leseur, a Frenchwoman who died in 1914, should be noted in this
context: She kept a hidden diary detailing her spiritual life and the sorrow
at her husband’s mockery and skepticism, which makes edifying reading. After
her death her husband Dr Felix Leseur discovered her notes. He was
consequently converted and became a Dominican priest.
The stories of holy
Christian mothers are bountiful, for example, Margaret of Scotland,
Elizabeth Ann Bayley Seton.
The heroic sacrifice of a contemporary mother, Gianna Molla, deserves
mentioning here. In September of 1961, at the age of thirty-nine, Gianna was pregnant
with her fourth child when physicians diagnosed a large ovarian cyst which
required surgery. The surgeon suggested that Gianna undergo an abortion in
order to save her own life. Gianna's decision was prompt and decisive: "I
shall accept whatever they will do to me provided they save the child."
Gianna died seven days after giving birth to her daughter Gianna Emanuela on
April 28, 1962. Gianna was canonized on May 16, 2004 in the presence of her
husband and children.
Every Christian mother
who is a role model transmits to contemporary mothers the supreme gift of
giving life and nurturing it. For in view of eternal life one thing is
certain: in contrast to all human accomplishments which will be reduced to
nothing, every single child to whom a woman has given birth will live
forever; for s/he has been given an immortal soul made in God’s image and
Women in the
Like Mary, all women
are called to cooperate in the redemption of the world. In doing so, women
are able to receive, savor and transmit natural and supernatural life. Mary
did so in silence, selfless service and availability always receptive to of
her calling and mission. Similarly, a woman’s essence is best illustrated
when she becomes a gift of love in and through her specific calling. The
influence that she can then exert is enormous; it is however not exercised
through dominance but rather by example and gently guiding persuasion. This
holds true not in the least for women in the professional world. Paul VI
acknowledged the contribution women are to make in the world:
And you, women
living alone, realize what you can accomplish through your dedicated
vocation. Society is appealing to you on all sides. Not even families can
live without the help of those who have no families.
our days, John Paul II highlighted the struggle of Edith Stein:
promote the social status of women; and especially profound are the pages in
which she explores the values of womanhood and woman’s mission from the
human and religious standpoint.
A deplorable consequence of some of contemporary culture is that service is
considered demeaning. Yet, if women generously fulfill their mission in
serving God and people, they live up to the call of Jesus Christ: “I have not
come to be served but to serve.” It is incomprehensible therefore that
women’s service to the church is considered to be degrading. An example that
illustrates this, are the Rossi sisters. All three teach theology at the Angelicum in Rome. While they consider their profession a gift of gratitude
to the service of the church they do not deny that it also includes
sacrifices since none of them is able to support herself from her earnings
as theology professor.
To assume Mary as a
role model for women of the third millennium does not imply that her image
needs to be redesigned in view of postmodernity. Her being a role model does
not depend on a socio–political context. Women saints as role models for
Christian women emulate the facets of Mary’s femininity expressed in the
married and single state.
For more information please see The Blessed Virgin Mary and Women
in this section.
John Paul II. Apostolic Letter Mulieris Dignitatem - On the
dignity and vocation of women. August 15, 1988, 27.
Arguably, the same can be said about being a married man.
Paul VI to women at the closing of the Second Vatican Council on
December 8, 1965.
Born about 1045, died 16 Nov., 1092, was a daughter of Edward "Outremere,"
or "the Exile", by Agatha, kinswoman of Gisela, the wife of St.
Stephen of Hungary.
Mother of Don Bosco.
Convert to Roman Catholicism; foundress of the American Sisters of
Charity, which was the first sisterhood native to the United States;
a wife, mother, widow, sole parent, foundress, educator, social
minister, and spiritual leader, Elizabeth Bayley Seton (1774 – 1821)
was the first person born in the United States to become a canonized
saint on September 14, 1975.