Shows Us God's
Respect for Women
By Pope John Paul II
The theological and spiritual aspects of the Church's teaching on Mary,
which have been amply developed in our century, have recently acquired a new
importance from the sociological and pastoral standpoint, due also to a
clearer understanding of woman's role in the Christian community and in
society, as we see in many significant interventions of the Magisterium.
The message to women
addressed by the Fathers at the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council on
December 8, 1965 are well known: "But the hour is coming in fact has come,
when the vocation of woman is being achieved in its fullness, the hour in
which woman acquires in the world an influence, an effect and a power never
hitherto achieved." (Enchiridion Vat., I, 307)
I confirmed these
affirmations a few years later in the Encyclical Mulieris dignitatem:
'The dignity and the vocation of women—a subject of constant human and
Christian reflection—have gained exceptional prominence in recent years' (n.
The role and dignity
of woman have been particularly championed in this century by the feminist
movement which has sought to react, sometimes in forceful ways, against
everything in the past and present that has hindered the full appreciation
and development of the feminine personality as well as her participation in
the many expressions of social and political life.
These demands were
in large part legitimate and contributed to building up a more balanced view
of the feminine question in the contemporary world. The Church, especially
in recent times, has paid special attention to these demands, encouraged by
the fact that the figure of Mary, if seen in the light of her Gospel life,
is a valid response to woman's desire for emancipation: Mary is the only
human person who eminently fulfils God's plan of love for humanity.
Every woman shares in Mary's
2. This plan is
already manifest in the Old Testament, with the creation narrative that
the first couple created in the image of God himself:
created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him, male and
female he created them." (Genesis 1:27) Thus woman, no less than man, bears
God's image in herself. This means that, since her appearance on the earth
is a result of the divine action, she too is appreciated: "God saw
everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good." (Genesis 1:31)
According to this view, the difference between man and woman does not imply
the inferiority of the latter nor her inequality, but is a new element which
enriches God's plan, and is "very good."
intention goes well beyond what is revealed in the Book of Genesis. In fact,
in Mary God created a feminine personality which greatly surpasses the
ordinary condition of woman as it appears in the creation of Eve. Mary's
unique excellence in the world of grace and her perfection are fruits of the
particular divine benevolence which seeks to raise everyone, men and women,
to the moral perfection and holiness which are proper to the adopted
children of God. Mary is "blessed among women"; however, every woman shares
in some way in her sublime dignity in the divine plan.
3. The remarkable
gift to the Mother of the Lord not only testifies to what we could call
God's respect for woman, but also emphasizes the profound regard in God's
plans for her irreplaceable role in human history.
Women need to
discover this divine esteem in order to be ever more aware of their lofty
dignity. The historical and social situations which caused the reaction of
feminism were marked by a lack of appreciation of woman's worth; frequently
she was relegated to a second rate or even marginal role. This did not allow
her to express fully the wealth of intelligence and wisdom contained in her
femininity. Indeed, throughout history women have not infrequently suffered
from scant esteem for their abilities, and sometimes even scorn and unjust
prejudice. This is a state of affairs that, despite important changes,
unfortunately continues even today in many nations and in many parts of the
4. The figure of
Mary shows that God has such esteem for woman that any form of
discrimination lacks a theoretical basis.
The marvelous work
which the Creator achieved in Mary gives men and women the possibility to
discover dimensions of their condition which before were not sufficiently
perceived. In beholding the Mother of the Lord, women will be able to
understand better their dignity and the greatness of their mission. But men
too in the light of the Virgin Mother, will be able to acquire a fuller and
more balanced view of their identity, of the family and of society.
Attentive consideration of the figure of Mary, as she is presented to us in
Sacred Scripture as read in faith by the Church, is still more necessary in
view of the disparagement she sometimes receives from certain feminist
currents. The Virgin of Nazareth has, in some cases been presented as the
symbol of the female personality imprisoned in a narrow, confining
domesticity. Mary on the contrary, is the model of the full development of
woman's vocation, since, despite the objective limits imposed by her social
condition, she exercised a vast influence on the destiny of humanity and the
transformation of society.
In Mary all are called to trust the Lord
5. Moreover Marian
doctrine can shed light on the multiple ways in which the life of grace
promotes woman's spiritual beauty.
In view of the
shameful exploitation that sometimes makes woman an object without dignity,
destined for the satisfaction of base passions, Mary reaffirms the sublime
meaning of feminine beauty, a gift and reflection of God's beauty.
It is true that
feminine perfection, as it was fully realized in Mary, can at first sight
seem to be an exceptional case and impossible to imitate, a model too lofty
for imitation. In fact, the unique holiness of her who from the very first
moment received the privilege of the Immaculate Conception is sometimes
considered unreachably distant.
However, far from
being a restraint on the way of following the Lord, Mary's exalted holiness
is on the contrary, destined in God's plan to encourage all Christians to
open themselves to the sanctifying power of the grace of God, for whom
nothing is impossible. Therefore in Mary all are called to put total trust
in the divine omnipotence, which transforms hearts, guiding them towards
full receptivity to his providential plan of love.
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